Re: What Might a Writing Test Be?

Subject: Re: What Might a Writing Test Be?
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- ISA -dot- DKNET -dot- DK>
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 1998 13:53:54 +1

Kelli Bond wrote:

> ... However, a defensible writing test can be set up and
> administered using a wholistic scoring system (say, 0 to 4) tied to
> specific criteria:
> --clarity (0 to 4)
> --conciseness (0 to 4)
> --correctness (0 to 4)
> --content/completeness (0 to 4)
> --courtesy (0 to 4)
> The applicant is placed in a room with some source documents and
> computer equipment. He or she receives five to six hours to produce up
> to five pages of a user's guide.
> ...
> 4 pts. Three or fewer instances of passive voice,
> expletives, etc. (add your own bugaboos)
> 3 pts Four to six instances...

Basically I like your system, but on one point I don't agree
completely: your hatred to the passive voice!

Passive voice is certainly used a lot of times where it should NOT
have been used. But there are also cased where the use of passive
voice is an advantage, also to conciseness. This is e.g. where
including specificly WHO or WHAT is doing something would...

- lead to very long and complicated sentences with a long list of
WHOs or WHATs would make it difficult to read or lead the focus
away from the important information.

- be imprecise, simply because a complete list of the WHOs or WHATs
can't be defined correctly.

- lead to very "unnatural" sentences, where the indefined nature of
the passive voice are replaced by other sentence designs where an
indefined - maybe even not 100% correct - group or an unwanted
e.g. "you" is included. This may result in the reader focusing on
the problems with the unnatural language instead of the content.

- you for e.g. marketing or "political correctness" reasons don't
want to be to specific about who or what.

The "acid test" I use is as follow:

Wherever I find that I have - for some odd reason - used passive
voice, I look at the possibilities for rewriting it using active
voice or imperative mode. If that is possible in a reasonable way it
should be rewritten. But if it leads to e.g. large complicated
sentences or other of the problems described above, I will leave it
in passive voice.

I would consequently change your CONCISENESS point to

4 pts. NO instances of ABUSE of passive voice,
expletives, etc. (add your own bugaboos)

Greetings from Denmark

Peter Ring
PRC (Peter Ring Consultants)
- specialists in user friendly manuals and audits on manuals.
prc -at- isa -dot- dknet -dot- dk
- the "User Friendly Manuals" website with links, bibliography, list
of prof. associations, and tips for technical writers:
- text cleaning software, e.g. for reading difficult e-mails:

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