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Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Passive voice is EVIL!!!

RANT: Had to review a policy document that included where practically every single thing was described in passive voice---"reports shall be submitted", "sites shall be inspected", "funding shall be available"...

But the bloody passive voice hid who exactly was supposed to do these things or be responsible for these decisions!

How can you even think to write a high level policy document that is not absolutely clear on roles and responsibilities? AARRGGHH!!!!

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Just badly written. Properly written passive voice can convey whatever is necessary.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

"shall be submitted BY.." should fix this.

NX with Teamcenter 8 on win7 64
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RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Agree with davidbeach and Walterke to fix the immediate problem. You'll never convince people who write policy documents (bright young MBAs) to write anything else. I think they actually teach that in business schools. Passive voice makes one seem more intelligent and lawyer-like.

HOWEVER, I agree with the OP just as much. Active voice is much more easily read and comprehended. Plus, it forces the writer-weenie to name responsible parties or at least refer to them:

XXXX shall submit...

A caution to the OP: You may be in a position to mark up grammar and style in writings created by upper management. Often that is not the case. The upper crust may immediately consider you to be a know-it-all who doesn't know grammar and style, and that's all they will remember about you when it comes time for layoffs or promotions.

Best to you,

Goober Dave

Haven't see the forum policies? Do so now: Forum Policies

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

As with any requirement-defining document, the use of the words "shall" "will" "should" are closely guarded and often force the writing style. Then again, when a person reads so many policies written like that, it only becomes natural to repeat the style in their own writing.


RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Passive voice is not necessarily evil; however, it should used sparingly. A key element is using passive voice is where you want to place the stress.

==> reports shall be submitted
The question is what is more important: that the reports be submitted (don't really care by whom as long as they're submitted), or that they be submitted by a specific and identified responsible party? Does the author of the policy document have the knowledge and/or the authority to determine who that responsible party is? If they do, then I would strongly urge that the policy author make that clear in active voice. However, if they don't that knowledge/authority, then the forced use of active voice may lead to more questions, i.e., if the policy reads "The responsible party shall submit the reports" leads to the obvious question, "Who is the responsible party?". I tend to agree that the policy author should find that out, if possible, before issuing the policy.

That being said, I agree that active voice should be used whenever possible, but in those cases where the action is clearly more important than the actor, passive voice works well.

Good Luck
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

I've read similar documents and couldn't help but thinking "well that's nice" every time I saw that something "shall" be done but not defining which party shall do it.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

I was once asked to review a policy document that was littered with "reports shall be submitted", etc. When I pointed out that there was no indication of a responsible person or business unit, I was told to return the document - so I red penned a great deal of it first flame

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

"reports shall be submitted"
Perhaps the party responsible for submitting is not the only missing information. Who shall they submit the report to?

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

My thought would be, 'is that document intended to define who (or rather, what role) should submit the report'?

Perhaps the document is only intended to note that the documents shall be submitted, but not actually define the mechanics of doing so? I have no idea in this case. I find that sometimes, defining who shall do something will ensure that nobody else ever does that thing, and people will insist on NOT doing it if they are not the designated person.

The more detail you define, the more you are constrained to that detail.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

consider the following: "You are being asked to control your flatulance." (Let's say there is some coworker that has such a problem and a colleague brings it to the attention of management.)

I'd consider that a more gracious statement than, "Sally wants you to control your flatulance."

I strive for the active voice in all my writing. As referenced already above, however, there can be times and situations that support its use.


¡papá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Sally considers it more gracious as well:)



RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

How does one control flatulence?

We have stopped naming specific persons responsible for performing specific tasks since annual changes in upper management lead to wholesale changes in department structures. It does no good to require the materials manager to submit a report when there is no longer a materials department. Vague documents don't have to be rewritten every time the general manager has flatulence.


The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

Along with politics and religion, nothing arouses more controversy than active or passive voice in reports. A purple star for your valor.

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

there's also a bigger picture.

this doc, saying "reports shall be submitted", identies the requirement to submit reports.

who submits them and when is something that can be determined in a separate doc.

for example ... "technical reports shall be submitted at PDR" identifies a requirement. this should generate two boxes ... one each for the supplier and the customer (have i sent the reports ? did i receive the reports?) to show this requirement to the satisfied. now, how well you define "technical reports" is how much wiggle room you give these downstream folks.

as above, passive voice is not evil, per se. particularly if it communicates adequately. to paraphrase the NRA, words (or phrasing or sentence structure) don't "mal-communicate", people do.

RE: Passive voice is EVIL!!!

People can intentionally "mal-communicate" but in keeping with your NRA reference, there are still accidents to worry about! The words still have to be treated with respect and used cautiously.

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