Is it OK to be a Passive Blogger?

First of all…my sincerest apologies to those that subscribe to this blog via email.  You received my post yesterday with many uses of the word “cemetery” spelled as “cemetary”.  Then, later on, my friend @pbeens let me know that I’d screwed up using the dreaded “it’s” instead of “its”.  Gasp.  This is all so bad.  I’m convinced that the “it’s” problem comes from reading it so much online that it becomes engrained.  I normally don’t make that mistake but, when I do, catch it on the proofread cycle.  It just slipped through the gaps yesterday.  How embarrassing.

Let me tell you how I blog.  I used to just write and post.  Using that pattern, posts could appear at any hour of the day or evening.

In a desire to be more consistent, I started scheduling the posts for 5 in the morning.  My logic was that it was a little less annoying for those who don’t care that I’ve “Just Blogged…” and that it was ready for those who do some reading in the morning before go to work.  It turns out to be the very best decision that I ever made.  It gives me the flexibility to blog when the mood hits and to be able to start a number of posts and file them away until I feel like I can finish them.  Sometimes, I’ll use Popplet as a graphic organizer in the pre-writing, other times, I’ll just add a bunch of bullet points and then flesh them out when finalizing my writing, other times, I’ll go a screen capture of something that’s of interest and then write around it when the mood and availability hits, and yet other times I’ll just sit down and write from beginning to end while the thoughts were in my mind.

That’s what happened yesterday.

Now, depending upon where I am (rec room, home office, patio, Tim Horton’s, …) I might write in the WordPress editor online, with LiveWriter, with OmmWriter, with Qumana, with ScribeFire, or with the WordPress iPad application.  The bottom line is that it could be written entirely online, entirely offline, or a hybrid of the two.  Each have their own advantages but the WordPress online editor has a wonderful set of writing tools.  I brought the post into the editor and used Google Chrome’s search to find and correct all the “cemetary” mistakes.  It was later that I fixed Peter’s catch.  I certainly appreciate the writing helper and feedback from readers like Peter.

As I brought the post into the editor, the writing helper looked like an English student’s worst nightmare!

editor

Could there be more wrong with it!  The red underlines are spelling mistakes (that I would certainly have caught had I used the WordPress editor from the beginning) but the green underlines are messages that I’m writing in the passive voice.

passive

As I sit back and reflect on this apparently butchered attempt of a post, that really has me thinking.  One entire flagged sentence appears below.

buried

Even as I look at it now, I can’t think of any other way I could have written the sentence!

For a long time now, when I use the WordPress writing helper, I get flagged for using the passive voice.  I know that, in school, English was my poorest subject.  Am I continuing as a blogger?

I’ve thought about this quite often.  In my mind, I rationalize it this way.  There are times when I post very aggressively when I’m positive that I’m right and want to convince my audience.  Most of my posts though, are designed to get people thinking and perhaps challenge me with opposing viewpoints.  Using that logic, I typically glance at these suggestions when I see them and usually ignore them.

But should I?

I know that there are many readers of this blog that use blogging as a writing form in the classroom.  What are your thoughts about the passive voice?  Is it something to be  ignored when blogging?  Or, is it a red flag that all bloggers (especially me) should be  addressing at all costs?

I thought that yesterday’s post about cemetaries, er cemeteries was one of my most inspired and interesting posts in a long time.  The WordPress writing helper thinks otherwise.  I’ve illustrated just a couple of things that were flagged.  In fact, the entire post was riddled with suggestions.  What say you?  Do I need help?

6 Comments

  1. Hi Doug

    My vote is voice is more important than worrying about passive voice and stressing too much about grammar.

    Your blogging voice is unique. The way you write makes it feel like I’m listening to work through a problem or reflect on your thoughts.

    Off course maybe I don’t deserve a vote :) I’ve always struggled with language and English was challenging for me at school. An educator once emailed me to ask if my grammar and spelling mistakes in my posts ever worried me. She was conflicted by her desire to blog vs her personal concerns that being an educator meant her writing needed to be grammatically correct. My response to her was I focus on how much blogging has improved my writing and that is what counts.

    PS my English teacher wrote in my school reports something along the lines of Sue has a very unusual writing style. It’s still unusual but at least it’s my own :)

  2. Hi Doug,
    My gut reaction is that what you say is more important than the grammar you use! Like you, I frequently ignore the spelling/grammar suggestions as I am often in a hurry. However, as a language teacher, I do have a certain pride in my grammar and it is also quite embarrassing if my students read my blog (as if they would!?) and notice spelling errors. I tend to write as the thoughts come into my head which is not always logical so I do try to proofread just to make sure what I have written makes some sort of sense. The passive voice thing, though, drives me mad and maybe I’m just lazy but I really can’t be bothered to work out another way of saying something I am happy with.
    Go with your gut, it’s usually good!

  3. First I felt challenged to write the sentence without the passive voice. How about “I assumed that my classmates were buried in Huron County”. Next, I wonder how much better that is. I like the passive voice and have always felt vaguely annoyed by grammar checkers that flagged my gorgeous prose as offending. The replacement sentence might be better for a resume or a piece of writing in which terseness is an asset but I am not sure why it is better for a blog post.

  4. From the few examples provided in the screen shot it looks like the grammar checker is flagging most uses of the verb ‘to be’ and ‘to make’ as passive. So it’s flagging some appropriate uses of modalities ‘would have been’, or ‘appears to have been’ as passive, when they’re not. They’re modalities.

    But the grammar checker is correct in one instance: ‘made the assumption’ is the passive voice for ‘assumed’. Writing ‘I assumed’ is much better than ‘I made the assumption’. (There’s a family of related cases; I have to grit my teeth every time I see ‘I made reference to’ for example). When you ‘make’ something, it should be an object, not the passive form of a verb.

    Looking through your other posts, I find you use modalities frequently and the passive voice more than you should. The modalities I can live with, provided they are chosen with intent. For example, “Sometimes, I’ll use…” and “other times, I’ll just add…” appear to be written out of habit. You mean, “Sometimes, I *might* use…” etc., but you’ve slipped into a passive future tense, as though there is an inevitability about it. Again, though, if this is deliberate, it can work. But like I say, it reads more as habitual.

    Other times, though, the passive pleads to be repaired. For example, “there were many of our classmates who have moved far and wide…” – why not simply write “many of our classmates have moved far and wide?” or better “many of our classmates had moved far and wide?”

    Or, “The results are placed into a searchable database…” would be better written as “It places the results into a searchable database.” (Then again, your subject and primary agency in this paragraph is ‘the project’, which hurts my reading ears all on its own).

    Sometimes, the passive leads you astray. For example, ” The possibilities of using this is overwhelming.” This of course is a tense agreement problem – a plural noun ‘possibilities’ with a singular verb ‘is’. You are writing “The possibilities… is…” Maybe better would be to say “The possibility of using this is overwhelming” but that’s not quite you mean. What you want to say is something like “Using this leads to an overwhelming number of possibilities” or something like that.

    Sorry for the longish response… but, you asked. :) Your writing is to my estimation objectively better than most bloggers. But it could be crisper, more active, more animated. It would be easier to read and your thoughts and opinions would have more punch.

  5. I am one of those people who subscribes to your blog via email and I must say that I was bitterly offended by your grammar :) I couldn’t give ‘two hoots’ about it – I agree with Sue….You do make it feel like you are actually having a conversation with me and that is one of the most positive aspects of your blogging.

  6. Pingback: Tips for Bloggers « doug – off the record

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s