Posted by: episystechpubs | August 25, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Passive Voice and Zombies

It’s time to get cracking with some lessons on the passive voice. Yes, we’ve covered this before, but it continues to be an issue with almost every type of document we receive from every department. Sometimes, there’s a good argument for using passive voice, but we aren’t discussing those arguments here. We are concentrating on why passive voice makes your writing weak and how to fix it.

The article I’m citing is “5 passive-voice evasions and how to fix them,” by Josh Bernoff. I’ll be supplying the information in tasty, bite-sized pieces for you over the next few days.

What’s wrong with passive voice?

A passive voice sentence starts with the object of an action rather than the subject or actor. For example, in the sentence “Attention must be paid to the state of our nation,” who is supposed to pay attention? That’s the missing subject. Grammatically, passive voice sentences include the verb “to be” (is, was, ought to be) and a past participle, but it’s easier to just use the zombies test: if you can add “by zombies” after the verb and it still makes grammatical sense, it’s passive voice. (“Attention must be paid by zombies . . .”)

[KC – More examples of the missing subject in passive voice:

<![if !supportLists]>· The apple was eaten.

· The report was run in Episys.

· A defect was found in the software.

As you can see, the actor in these sentences remains anonymous, and if you use Bernoff’s test and add “by zombies,” it makes sense with each of these examples. That’s passive voice for you.]

Every passive voice sentence sets up uneasiness in readers’ minds. They wonder what unseen force is responsible for the actions they’re reading about. The more passive, the greater the uneasiness.

KC – Since most of us don’t want to make our reader uneasy, let’s try to stamp out the passive voice!

Don’t be passive with zombies or you’ll regret it!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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