What’s wrong with the passive voice?

Ways to reduce stuffiness in business and nonfiction writing.
Perhaps it’s time to check your writing – and ask for help if you need help coming up with non-stuffiness.

Stroppy Editor

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has joined the Campaign Against the Passive Voice. He follows in the footsteps of Strunk and White (whose section on the passive voice, while more nuanced than many people recognise, is calamitously misleading) and of George Orwell (who complained about the passive while using it extensively himself, even in the same sentence as his complaint).

The campaign isn’t wholly wrong, but it goes too far and it doesn’t properly understand the problem. The passive voice is often better than the active, and its overuse is usually a symptom of something else.

What’s the difference?

Roughly: in the active voice, the agent performing the action is the grammatical subject of the sentence and the recipient of the action is the grammatical object. The passive voice switches this around, making the recipient of the action the grammatical subject and the agent the object. Passive verbs are formed…

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Is “Alright” Ever Alright? – Guest Post by Kathy Steinemann…

Useful insights primarily for fiction writers, although we nonfiction writers and editors will learn something too.
Enjoy … and share your comments.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Image Source: Dictionary.com

According to EtymOnline.com, alright was attested in print by 1884.

Writers argue about its use. Some insist it’s appropriate, while others stand on the no-nada-nix-never soapbox.

Who is correct? This post will try to clear the confusion.

What do the experts say?

I searched several sources and found the following results.

No, alright is unacceptable.

Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott, PhD

The Chicago Manual of Style

AP Stylebook

Lapsing into a Comma, by Bill Walsh

All right is the only form listed.

The Synonym Finder, by J. I. Rodale

Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr.

Alright is informal or nonstandard and less acceptable than all right.

Dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster.com

Dictionary.Cambridge.org

OxfordDictionaries.com

MacMillanDictionary.com

YourDictionary.com

CollinsDictionary.com

TheFreeDictionary.com

My hunt through several Ray Bradbury e-books found no instances of alright.

After more research…

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Group shots

Another insight from the talented Paul Hassing.
You see, we word-nerds learn a lot about all sorts of things.

Practical Copywriting Tips

group team photo shot corporate business All together now …

A small-business client sent me a photo of herself posing with staff and colleagues at an industry function.

She asked if and how the shot could be used on her website.

After examining it, here’s what I said:

Normally, pics like these bore readers to tears (so I advise ditching them).

This photo, however, is unusually well executed.

So, the questions are, will your website’s target audience:

  1. Know who these people are?
  2. Be impressed?

If 1 and 2 are YES, you could use the pic as is, with no copy at all.

If 1 is NO but  2 is YES, you’ll need to identify the people by name, title and organisation for optimal effect.

You could do this the usual way (i.e. via a caption) but it might be a bit long given the number of people in frame.

Alternatively, you could embed these…

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Writing strategy

For some time, I’ve been trying to find a way to easily share the bare bones of the writing strategy I use when I write and when I teach it.

Here’s one attempt – and I really don’t know how well it will work.

Your feedback will always be appreciated. (with apologies to my talented designer friends).

Nonfiction Writing Plan

Using headings in nonfiction writing

 

Readers faced with pages of text broken only by paragraph spaces will probably feel overwhelmed and stop reading. As a nonfiction writer, you have information that you need to share with your readers. So it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for them to continue reading and to understand what you are saying.

Headings serve multiple purposes in helping your readers by

  • breaking the text into reader-friendly chunks
  • providing signposts for your readers to keep them mindful of the structure of your work
  • helping you promote your argument.

As a technical writer, your aim is to lead your readers to reach the same conclusion that you have. Headings provide a context for your readers – both writer and readers begin at the same place and continue along the same path, guided by the headings.

Readers need headings

  • to give an overall picture
  • to point out where they are in the discussion
  • to assist in making the connections between the points of the argument.

Your readers understand the details better if they have been given an overview first. Remember, it’s the headings that provide the overview.

Readers will retain those details longer when they know in advance the nature of the information they are going to receive.

The heading level indicates the degree of detail being discussed.

Advantages for readers

  • breaking up the text
  • providing overviews along the way
  • announcing each key point before its detailed discussion
  • using the location and size of each topic to indicate its importance
  • allowing readers to decide where they will start
  • allowing readers to select what parts of the document they will read
  • giving readers places to pause, to regroup their thoughts or to rest.

Advantages for the writer

  • Structuring your document is so much easier!
  • You can readily check the logical flow of the argument.
  • You can move sections to a different place in the document when you can easily see the extent of that section.
  • You can create sub-headings to help you check the structure, and remove the sub-headings later if your document template or format does not allow for that number of levels.
  • You don’t have to provide transitions between topics.

 

A word of warning!

If your headings feed into an automatically generated table of contents, make sure your final task before publishing is to update the table of contents.

PS    If, for whatever reason, you can’t include headings, you can use them to help you structure your writing – then delete them during the reviewing process.

  Headings help both the writing and reading processes.

Perfect Pages - editing nonfiction writing
Sharp nonfiction writing

Stew on this!

A post by well-respected copywriter, Paul Hassing, hits the target with this post about the importance of words for business writers.

Enjoy Paul’s unique style and check out more of his posts at practicalcopywritingtips.wordpress.com

Practical Copywriting Tips

Which side are you on? Which side are you on?

I was once asked to settle a family debate.

She said you stew apples to create the dish Stewed apple.

He said you stew apples to create … stewed apples.

This is what Isaid:

I’m honoured you’ve consulted me.

In most cases, Stewedapple would be seen as generic.

In literal terms, very few would stew just one apple.

Stewedapples, however, lays it out explicitly. There’s definitely more than one apple involved.

If you stew multiple apples but refer to the result in the singular, some readers may pause to consider a possible disconnect.

This is dangerous, as they’ll be distracted from your message.

If you use multiple apples and say stewedapples, there’s no conflict and therefore no distraction.

If, however, for some reason, you stew just one apple, stewedapple is bang on the…

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