Sunday, March 29, 2009

The passive voice swamp

Gary King is one of Wikipedia's most prolific featured article writers; bless him. He asked for a review of his latest effort because no matter how good one is, it does help to get extra sets of eyes on the work. Little mistakes creep up on the best of us. After the fiftieth time reading a paragraph a small error starts to seem invisible. So here's hoping our wonderful volunteer Gary will be a good sport about this post: there's a phenomenon that needs a name.

Here's a sample from the article, which really is very good and close to featured quality already:

Metroid II was released by Nintendo in North America on January 20, 1992,[1] in Japan on January 21, 1992, and in Europe on May 21, 1992.[11] The game was not as well received as its Nintendo Entertainment System counterpart,[3] but it was still given generally favorable reviews, receiving an aggregated score of 80% from Game Rankings.[1] Nintendo included the game in its Player's Choice marketing label.[11] Metroid II is often considered the weakest game in the franchise.[3] Praise focused on the game's story and settings, while criticism targeted its graphics and audio. In their Top 200 Games list, Nintendo Power ranked the game as the 102nd best game on a Nintendo console.[12] Metroid II was also included in's list of the best Game Boy games.[13]

Write one sentence in passive voice and it's easy to write another. Occasionally people just slip into the passive mood, hardly noticing the change. So I told him "Gary, you've wandered into the passive voice swamp," so of course he changed the paragraph and got out of that swamp before any allegories bit him. Yet there ought to be a term for the phenomenon. And now (with forbearance from one of Wikipedia's very best contributors) the blogosphere has one.

Drain the passive voice swamp!

This message is public service from the Wiki Witch of the West.

1 comment:

llywrch said...

Durova, what you have described is only one of many traps for the unwary writer. One I noticed in the last few months I fell into -- as well as a number of other editors -- is the "X, but Y" construction often used to list facts or details (variants include "X, however Y" & "X, yet Y"). I was much relieved to realize the words "while" & "although" greatly help to skirt this pit.

I'm truly amazed that I have lived this long & never noticed this handicap in my own writing. Even after one of my favorite college professors pointed it out to me almost 30 years ago.

And I am sure there are many others which need pointing out.