We’ve all read corporate materials that are real snooze fests, but that doesn’t mean that writing for business needs to be dull. One simple, easy way to put energy into your business writing is to focus on using active voice to put action in your call to action.Too many of us employ passive voice in our writing without even realizing that we’re doing it. First, let’s look at an example of a passive v. active sentence.
* Passive: The employ was fired by her.
* Active: She fired the employ.
The difference between these two sentences isn’t just length, its verb placement. In the passive sentence, the subject — her in this case — doesn’t do anything. By contrast, in an active sentence the subject takes action.
A good way to conceptualize this is by thinking of the actor and the action: the actor is the subject (the person doing something) and the action is the verb (the action they take). To energize your sentences, you want the actor and the action right next to each other:
* Donald Trump fired his apprentice.
* Bill Gates spoke to Steve Ballmer.
* Dell recalled laptop batteries for several models.
* Warren Buffett offered pennies per share.
* Jeff Immelt reorganized the division.
* Wal-Mart slashed prices.
In every one of these examples, it’s very clear who is the actor (Trump, Gates, Dell, Buffett, Immelt, and Wal-Mart) and what is the action (fired, spoke, recalled, offered, reorganized, and slashed). By using active voice, your writing will not only be clearer, it will bristle with energy.
Try this on your own writing — pick any document from a memo to a proposal to an email. You can use the grammar check function in MS word to help you identify where you’ve used passive voice or you can diagnose it yourself. After you change every incidence of passive to active read it again — you’ll find its easier to read and more interesting.
Now there is a place for passive voice: when you want to make the relationship between the actor and the action vague. No surprise you’ll find lots of passive voice in government and legal writing.