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Passive Resistance

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IRM Style Guide

Oddly, I find no guidance about the passive voice in the U.S. GPO Style Manual, which technically the IRM Style Guide only extends, not supersedes in whole or in part. (As pointed out in the examples for copyright notices and disclaimers, the GPO Style Guide’s equivalent of a copyright notice includes statements in both the active and passive voices.)

Anyway, back to the IRM Style Guide to complete the quote that I used for launching this post —

“Although active voice is preferred, passive voice is acceptable under the following situations:

  • The actor in the situation is unknown. >> The computer was stolen from the office over the weekend. (We do not know who stole the computer.)
  • The actor is known, but we do not want to reveal the individual’s name. >> The new computer system was poorly designed. (We may know who the programmers were, but we want to be diplomatic and avoid pointing fingers.)
  • The action is more important than the person performing it. >> The experiment was repeated three times. (The fact that the experiment occurred is the significant information, not who ran it.)
  • To soften a directive. >> This paragraph could be shortened. (Rather than: Shorten this paragraph.)

              —IRM Style Guide

I see the third of those four bullets to be applicable to copyright notices and disclaimers. As noted in my discussion on that page of this post, although a writer or publisher does actively make a disclaimer and does wish to discourage active violation of the copyright, the focus is properly placed on the character of the disclaimer or copyright notice. As is best and most succinctly expressed in the passive voice.

But I must wonder: since this is from a guide for style to be used in writing the Internal Revenue Manual, why not give us some more relevant illustrations?

Given my current employment, I feel constrained against giving some specific examples here, at least for now, even for tax code sections outside my own field of expertise, even though the IRM is public information, and even though this blog post is meant for general references to style rather than pertaining to anything at all connected with my own employer. But since I do plan to continue working on this blog post through the coming months, I anticipate coming back to this page after I retire, with an eye toward giving some relevant illustrations to the IRM Style Guide‘s four situations.


//] - so to speak

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Written by macheide

30 April 2015 at 3:57 pm

Posted in so to speak

Tagged with , ,


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