Do you have trouble getting your readers to understand your messages? How often does miscommunication happen between you and your readers? Perhaps you are writing passive rather than active sentences. IWCC’s Effective Writing Skills workshops encourage writers to minimize the use of passive verbs because active verbs are far more helpful for readers.
When you write using the active form of a verb, you play a movie for your readers. When readers read a sentence with an active structure, they clearly picture your written message. First, they see an actor. Then they see the actor taking an action which inevitably leads to the ending, or the outcome.
When you write using the passive form of a verb, your movie is confusing from the start. The reader has to stop and figure out who is doing what to whom. In some cases, the movie is half over before the actor appears. In the worst cases, the actor does not appear in the movie at all. Try and play each of these movies in your head:
Active Structure: “The manager is writing the proposal.”
Passive Structure: “The proposal is being written by the manager”
Which movie was easier to follow?
When reading a passive sentence, the reader has to work harder and takes longer to figure out what the passive sentence means. And the worst result…the reader misinterprets the main point of your message altogether. When you let the reader direct their own movie by choosing the actor, you are taking a risk. Here are two more examples:
Active Structure: “The customer decided to purchase the newest version of the software.”
Passive Structure: “The decision was made to purchase the newest version of the software.”
While you can’t always eliminate passive verbs completely from a large document, you can minimize these confusing sentences. The above examples are, of course, very simple. Here is a slightly more complicated example. Try to play this movie in your head:
- The initiation of the implementation of the project and the acquisition of the necessary resources will be carried out to ensure targets are met.
Did you follow all that? Do you see how challenging it is to play a movie in your head when the actor is nowhere to be found?
Here is the Oscar-nominated alternative:
- The Design Team will start the project and they will also make sure that the necessary materials are available so we meet our targets.
Did you find that the active alternative made for a much more enjoyable movie? We are betting that you did since the actor was present from the start. As you can see, the active structure is much easier to read and understand.
Millions upon millions of messages fly through cyberspace every minute. If you want your messages to stand out, try moving from “passive” to “active”. Help your readers easily understand your message by giving them the movie-ready version. They will thank you for it!