Re: appears vs is displayed (and a digression on grammar)

Subject: Re: appears vs is displayed (and a digression on grammar)
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- AXIONET -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 18:38:12 -0500

>I'm in the middle of a raging debate among several tech writers about
>the use of "appears" vs "is displayed," e.g.:
>"Click Add and the Add Patient window is displayed."
>"Click Add and the Add Patient window appears."

Just to muddy the waters: how about "displays"? And it might not be a
bad idea to average one action per sentence in most cases: "Click Add.
The Add Patient window displays."

And one more thing: contrary to the perscriptive grammarians, you don't
always want to avoid passive voice. Most of the time, the active voice
is stronger, but at times, the passive voice emphasizes what's important
by placing it at the start of the sentence.

For example, George Orwell, who advocates the active voice in "Politics
and the English Language" starts off "Shooting an Elephant" with "In
Moulein, in Upper Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people. . ."
I'm quoting from memory, so the words may be a bit off, but the point is
that Orwell broke his general principles when he had a good reason to do

We think of grammar as a set of inflexible rules, because that's how
it's presented to us in school. However, grammar is really just a
description of how a language is used in one time and one place (and,
sometimes, by one group).

You conform to grammar so that your writing is understood, or treated
the way you want it treated. Naturally, too, writers who care about what
they're doing try to avoid awkward or vague constructions. But, instead
of following inflexible rules, it seems more useful to know why the rule
is usually a good idea--and when it's not.
Bruce Byfield (bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com)
Technical Writer
Burnaby, BC, Canada
h: (604) 421-7189 o: (604) 293-5781

"Doubtless a distrust of human reason is reasonable, but
few adventures are more honourable than an attempt to
live by it."
--Eric Gill, "An Essay on Typography"

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