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Thread: The passive voice and planning

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    The passive voice and planning

    "It has been decided that...."

    "An informational meeting will be held..."


    I just had a little epiphany here at work. The writing that I produce and spend all my time reading (planning and government related stuff) is FULL of the passive voice. This is something that our teachers and professors tried to beat out of us again and again as we went through our schooling, yet it is absolutely rampant in our line of work due to the automatic C.Y.A. benefit it provides.

    Do any of you out there see the same rampant level of overuse of this type of writing as I do?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    It has been duly noted that the same phenomenon occurs here as well.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  3. #3
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    Great timing!

    I do not write in passive voice (I try not to, but it can happen). My boss does and our styles clash when we collaborate on plans, memos, or other correspondence. I tried explaining the difference to her and she laughed it off. I kind of think she didn’t understand what I was saying. I also think that she uses passive voice to “soften” requirements or potentially bad news.

    Ugh. Back to ignoring the "will have, will be, has been, must have been" laden document of hers I am proofing.
    I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I don't know if I use it a lot or not. But my first day here my office mate suggested that I write recommendations, comments, etc. in the passive voice. He avoids a lot of blame that way.

    Now I am going to read my comments and reports and see if I do it!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    Same here!

    And what I also see is the intense desire to to rephase and reiterate the same information over and over again.
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  6. #6
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I'm fairly good at writing in that style it but I really hate it.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  7. #7
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I do write in the passive tongue when I am teetering on the brink of a political or legal disaster (or the Board is, rather)

    yeah, that Microsoft grammar program really hates me when it runs a grammar check, I give up and hit "ignore rule" because I get sick of it nagging at me - I yell at my screen and say "you don't understand, I work in local government, I have to be passive!"

    Otherwise, I don't write in the passive voice and when I have the time to really edit my work, I change the sentences around that Microsoft tells me to do ('cause you can never tell what Bill Gates will do to me)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    "The Planning Department recommends...." A reporter asked me who the Planning Department was. I had to admit it was a one person staff.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    APA has a good resource for this. I keep it on my desk. It is a small volume titled "Planning in Plain English" by Natalie Marcis.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  10. #10
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    For some reason, if I write simply and directly, my boss just tears up my staff reports. I think there is a perception that the passive voice sounds more professional, intelligent, etc.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    You shall be required to use passive voice in this field.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  12. #12
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    I think the common use of passive voice in staff reports is because that writing style tends to emphasize their advisory nature. Active voice can too often be interpreted by insecure board members as a directive.

    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    For some reason, if I write simply and directly, my boss just tears up my staff reports. I think there is a perception that the passive voice sounds more professional, intelligent, etc.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB View post
    I think the common use of passive voice in staff reports is because that writing style tends to emphasize their advisory nature. Active voice can too often be interpreted by insecure board members as a directive.
    Good point. My first director was extremely cautious about offending the politicos. As a result, all staff recommendations were waffle weasle masterpieces after he got done rewriting them. The assistant director used to refer to getting definitive recommendations from him as "trying to nail jello to the wall."
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I always write draft reports in an active voice.






    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  15. #15
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    The passive tense sounds as if an analysis took place and a decision was made.

    Active sounds forceful and could leave someone under the impression that no analysis was made and the statement was pulled from the gut and without impartial review.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Two jobs ago (Current Planning) we were first told to begins sections of our analyses with "Staff is of the opinion that...". Then somebody upstairs decided "opinion" sounded too "logical" and we had to change it to "Staff feels that...". Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy...

  17. #17
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    APA has a good resource for this. I keep it on my desk. It is a small volume titled "Planning in Plain English" by Natalie Marcis.
    I'll look into getting this. It's driving me crazy, the amount of language contorting we do in this office. I hope someone would smack me if I were to ever start talking the way I write here.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally posted by ofos View post
    Good point. My first director was extremely cautious about offending the politicos. As a result, all staff recommendations were waffle weasle masterpieces after he got done rewriting them. The assistant director used to refer to getting definitive recommendations from him as "trying to nail jello to the wall."
    I find I need to compromise between "passive" (which btw, is not always bad, imo) and more usage of "I". (Many "I"'s appears egotistical.)
    writing styles: When reading (my own or others' writing), I feel uncomfortable when the style seems overly pompous foo. in contrast, I don't feel uncomfortable reading "honestly informal" styles such as chatenese (chatesian? chatenese?).

  19. #19
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I wanted to bump this thread, because I'm struggling to avoid use of the passive voice in the development code I'm writing. It seems it's almost unavoidable; I keep clear of jargon and legalese, and manage to be consistent with terms and grammar, but as for the passive voice ... nope. Writing for planning, whether it's a code or staff report, avoids using personal pronouns, and focuses on the subject as the object of a sentence; thus, passive voice is the result.

    I'm still peeved that the vast majority of planners imagine themselves to be lawyers when it comes to writing staff reports, code amendments, and the like. Shall, said (in place of "the"), aforementioned, prior to, thereof, aforementioned, hereinafter, thereto ... all far too common, and no more precise or legally enforceable than plain English alternatives.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  20. #20
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I wanted to bump this thread, because I'm struggling to avoid use of the passive voice in the development code I'm writing. It seems it's almost unavoidable; I keep clear of jargon and legalese, and manage to be consistent with terms and grammar, but as for the passive voice ... nope. Writing for planning, whether it's a code or staff report, avoids using personal pronouns, and focuses on the subject as the object of a sentence; thus, passive voice is the result.

    I'm still peeved that the vast majority of planners imagine themselves to be lawyers when it comes to writing staff reports, code amendments, and the like. Shall, said (in place of "the"), aforementioned, prior to, thereof, aforementioned, hereinafter, thereto ... all far too common, and no more precise or legally enforceable than plain English alternatives.
    The practice has been observed and determined to be lamentable.

  21. #21
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    I have thought of an alternative title to this thread. I'm not going to share it as it is sort of vulgar
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    I usually try to avoid the passive voice, but there are circumstances when it is useful, and not just in the CYA/do not offend sense. It can be useful in making a point due to the way the sentences are constructed.

    My favorite use of the passive voice is "Mistakes were made."

  23. #23
    Cyburbian DrumLineKid's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    My favorite use of the passive voice is "Mistakes were made."
    Yet President Obama came out and said "we screwed up" with the Dashel appointment. Refreshing isn't it.....scary, but refreshing.


    DLK
    "There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed." RFK

  24. #24
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    After due consideration, it has been determined that this thread shall be bumped forthwith.

  25. #25
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    It seems to be apparent that this may be timely.

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