The passive voice and web accessibility
The grammatical rule against the passive voice always mystified me; sometimes it’s the only elegant way to express a thought. Yet there’s Microsoft grammar checker with its squiggly green line, bothering about the passive voice.
But the passive voice can be overdone. (See? Try that sentence in all active voice. You wind up bending it into a pretzel.) I’m reading Sarah Horton’s Access by Design; a guide to universal usability for web designers, and she wallows in it:
When information is displayed on a printed page, its content and presentation are inextricably bound. The expression of the information is tied to its visual design, and the reader must be able to access and interpret the information as presented. When access is subject to requirements such as 20/20 vision, the information is bound to be inaccessible to some readers. (p. 44)
That’s ok in small doses but Horton wrote the whole book that way. Here, I’ll take a crack at it:
Displaying information on a printed page inextricably binds content to presentation – in this case, the visual design of the page. The user must correctly understand that presentation in order to access and interpret the information it contains. If the presentation requires that the user have 20/20 vision, for example, some users will be unable to overcome it.
A real writer could certainly do better, but I gots to start paying attention to overusing the passive voice. I’ve heard Sarah Horton speak in person, and on a separate occasion, her Web Style Guide co-author Patrick Lynch, and hadn’t realized what a leavening influence Lynch had on her writing.
But no, this does not mean I’ll be turning on Grammar Checker. The grammatical mistakes you read here are mine, dammit, and won’t be tainted by advice from any dunderheaded software program.
Otherwise, the book is pretty good. I have not decided yet if I agree with all her conclusions, to the extent I can “access and interpret” them in all that passivity. So far I’m much more enjoying another book, Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm. Maybe it’s just me; I tend to prefer the style of a detective novel or ideally, a comic book.