Gentoo Wiki talk:Guidelines

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Passive voice, imperatives, and you/your

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This discussion is still ongoing.

I can understand why the third person passive voice is recommended for (non-persona-driven) wiki articles, since there will (hopefully!) be many contributors maintaining the content over time, so there is no single author "I" (and using "we" sounds stuffy).

However, as the active voice imperative mood is also implicitly recommended (for install instructions etc), I'm not sure the admonition to avoid "you" (and, by extension "your") quite follows.

If, for example, the instruction "Now install the package foo:" is given, this is active voice, with an implied subject (the reader = "you") (otherwise, we'd have to say "Let the package foo now be installed:" or similar, imperative passive voice). And given that the implied pronoun is "you", it then feels unnatural (to me, anyhow) not to be able subsequently to say things like "Now, if bar is already installed on your system..." ("your" = possessive determiner). FWIW, Google[1] and Microsoft[2] disallow (aiui) "I/we", but permit "you"/"your"/"yours" in their instructional material.

In other words, since the content in this Wiki consists mostly of instructions (rather than e.g. presentations of scientific results), quite a lot of it (following current guidelines) will end up not being in third-person passive voice at all, but in (implied second-person) active imperative. As such, I'd argue that second-person writing (used sparingly) shouldn't be discouraged, or necessarily flagged up as a candidate for editor rewrites. I do agree that "you" should generally be omitted from imperatives themselves (for reasons of brevity: "Now install foo:" scans easier than "Now you should install foo:").

Perhaps then (following the TechnicalWriter Wiki[3]), it might be a little clearer to say:

  1. Descriptive writing should be in the third-person, active passive voice, indicative
  2. Instructions should be in the second person, active voice, imperative

and that where e.g. possessive determiners ("your system" etc) follow from the second, they are permissible? --Sakaki (talk) 16:30, 27 April 2019 (UTC)

As a former publisher, a grammar maven, and a seasoned proofreader, I concur wholeheartedly. Why does it take more than a year to implement such a solid suggestion? (PS I hate the passive voice, and so should you.) --Davidbryant (talk) 20:32, 12 July 2020 (UTC)

References

  1. Google Developer Documentation Style Guide: "Language and grammar: Second person". Retrieved 27th April 2019.
  2. Microsoft Style Guide: "Grammar and parts of speech: Person". Retrieved 27th April 2019.
  3. TechnicalWriter Wiki: "Using the correct language". Retrieved 27th April 2019.