Mudcat Café message #1608487 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #86382   Message #1608487
Posted By: Jim Dixon
18-Nov-05 - 06:32 PM
Thread Name: BS: Irritatin' phrases....
Subject: RE: BS: Irritatin' phrases....
I have grown to abhor the passive voice, especially in business communication, because its vagueness often leads to misunderstanding. Passive voice says something will be done without saying who will do it. People read things like "The files will be backed up weekly" and think, "Is he promising he will do it, or telling me to do it, or—?" That's assuming the readers are bright enough, and responsible enough, to ask the question.

My boss recently wrote a lot of policies and procedures for our internal web site. They were meant describe the kind of work we do in our department, and to be read by people in other departments, so they would know what to expect from us. I found she had used passive voice repeatedly. I tried to explain why passive voice was undesirable. She said she liked passive voice because it sounded "less directive." In other words, she thought it sounded more polite to suggest that something might be done rather than tell someone to do it outright. In every case where she wrote in passive voice, she wanted the reader to understand that she was describing something the reader was supposed to do, but she didn't want to come right out and say that!

When I pointed out the possible misunderstanding—people might think we were promising to do the very thing she wanted them to do—she agreed to let me make the changes.

My grammar checker is set to flag all instances of passive voice, and it does a pretty good job. For example, it flagged "will be done," "were meant," and "might be done." It missed "will be backed up" and "was supposed."

The classic passive voice cop-out: "Mistakes were made."