26 July 2013

Passive voice in TJ

There is no end of advice on writing in English available on the internet, much of it good. Pieces urging writers to use the active voice in preference to the passive are everywhere de rigueur.

The article Using the Active Voice to Strengthen Your Writing by the ever-reliable team at DailyWritingTips is typical of many.

Without disagreeing with anything this article claims, I do think that it is somewhat overstated despite several carefully explained exceptions and concessions.

Technical journalists and their translators are especially aware of this issue for the simple reason that their articles focus more  often about products and processes rather than they do on agents, which is to say people and institutions. In such contexts, the passive voice is spontaneously the more appropriate and often the only choice because it puts the subject of interest -- the produce or process -- in the foreground.

"The ship was launched ..." is perfectly natural when the subject is the ship. To shift the emphasis to who launched it will be fine in some contexts, but ill-advised in an article focusing on the ship itself.

As the article says, "using the passive voice can be an excellent way to avoid assigning responsibility for a job or problem". This too is often required when a company writes about an accident, mishap, delay or whatever and for obvious reasons does not which to name names... especially not for the sake of a change from the passive to the active voice.

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