Passive vs. Active Voice in Technical Writing
Call me old school, but I question the propensity of some technical writers to write primarily in the active voice. In my opinion, the result sounds unprofessional and seems unnecessarily wordy.
When I am reading a technical document, I want the facts stated as succinctly as possible. For example, why state this (active voice):
By the time you‘ve finished this article, there will be a list of items listed in a table which you‘ll be able to buy and then view. If you delete and reinstall the app, then the “Refresh” button will reinstate any items that you previously purchased.
instead of this (passive voice):
By the time you‘ve finished this article, items will be listed in the table which can be purchased and viewed. If the app is deleted and reinstalled, then the “Refresh” button will reinstate any previously purchased items.
As a sanity check, I did some research and found a web page published by the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina entitled, “Passive Voice”. The article includes a section, “So when is it ok to use the passive?”. Listed are three instances “when the passive voice is quite useful”. Point 3 in this list is, “If your readers don’t need to know who’s responsible for the action.”
In a technical document, it is usually clearly understood that commands are directed at the reader. So using the passive voice does nothing to confuse the reader, but goes far in saying things more simply.