Have you ever read something that “should” be good and informative, but it was so boring that you just couldn’t keep your mind from wandering?
You can probably blame passive voice.
If you’re like me you probably forgot all those grammar terms from High School. After all, you don’t exactly go around discussing “voice” or “tense” and diagramming the sentences you read in the newspaper.
But you do know what sounds good. You know the difference between a narrative that sounds dead and one that has life.
Some of the definitions of the word “passive” are “lacking in energy or will” – and “lethargic” and that’s just how passive voice affects language.
I think teachers must think passive voice sounds academic, or proper – because they encouraged us to use it when we were writing essays in school.
So exactly what is it? Read the minutes from almost any meeting and you’ll see it. It looks like this:
- Fundraising ideas were discussed by those in attendance.
- A committee was chosen to plan the next event.
- Income and expense reports were given.
- Refreshments were served by the hostess.
- And of course the good old standby: “A good time was had by all.”
Ugh. Pretty bland and boring stuff! The secretary could just as easily have written:
- We discussed fundraising ideas and chose a committee to plan the next event.
- Betty read the income and expense reports.
- Susan served apple pie and ice cream.
The trick to avoiding passive voice is to put a person at the beginning of the sentence. When somebody does something it becomes active – and infinitely more interesting. And of course, when you add some detail you paint word pictures and get your readers’ minds involved.
I know – we all advise against starting any marketing message with “I” – and a marketing message really is about you and your service. But you don’t have to let it look that way. Turn it around and make your sentences begin with “you” and you’ll probably write a winning message.
A good rule of thumb – write the way you talk, with the focus on your client/customer/prospect!