Don’t Be Passive

Writers are sometimes guilty of writing in a passive voice.

But what is a passive voice?  If you cannot recognize the problem, you are destined to repeat it often, diminishing your skill as a writer or one that people can adequately communicate with.

The easiest explanation is one that I found on Grammar Girl’s site by Mignon Fogarty.  So, I will pass her words along to you.

What Is Active Voice?

I’ll start with active voice because it’s simpler. In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence “Steve loves Amy.” Steve is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Amy, the object of the sentence.

Another example is the title of the Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” “I” is the subject, the one who is doing the action. “I” is hearing “it,” the object of the sentence.

What Is Passive Voice?

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, “Steve loves Amy,” I would say, “Amy is loved by Steve.” The subject of the sentence becomes Amy, but she isn’t doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Steve’s love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Steve to Amy.

If you wanted to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive, you would say “It was heard by me through the grapevine,” not such a catchy title anymore.

Is “To Be” a Sign of a Passive Sentence?

A lot of people think all sentences that contain a form of the verb “to be” are in passive voice, but that isn’t true. For example, the sentence “I am holding a pen” is in active voice, but it uses the verb “am,” which is a form of “to be.” The passive form of that sentence is “The pen is being held by me.”

Notice that the subject, the pen, isn’t doing anything in that sentence. It’s not taking an action; it’s passive. One clue that your sentence is passive is that the subject isn’t taking a direct action.

Is Passive Voice Always Wrong?

Passive voice isn’t wrong, but it’s often a poor way to present your thoughts.

Another important point is that passive sentences aren’t incorrect; it’s just that they often aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. Also, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentence.

When you put sentences in passive voice, it’s easy to leave out the person or thing doing the action. For example, “Amy is loved,” is passive. The problem with that sentence is that you don’t know who loves Amy.

Politicians often use passive voice to intentionally obscure the idea of who is taking the action. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mistakes were made,” when referring to the Iran-Contra scandal. Other examples of passive voice for political reasons could include “Bombs were dropped,” and “Shots were fired.” Pay attention to the news and listen for examples of passive voice.

Also, a reader named Matthew commented that businesses sometimes use passive voice. He notes that it sounds better to write, “Your electricity will be shut off,” than “We, the electric company, will be shutting off your power.”

Is Passive Voice Hard to Understand?

A recent study suggests that less educated people–those who dropped out of school when they were 16–have a harder time understanding sentences written in the passive voice than those written in active voice. I only had access to the press release, not the original study, but the results made it seem as if you should stick with active voice if you’re writing for the general population.

Is Passive Voice OK in Crime Reports?

On the other hand, sometimes passive voice does have advantages. For example, if you truly don’t know who is taking the action, then you can’t name the person. This is especially common with crime reports. For example, a security guard might write “The store was robbed,” because nobody knows who the robber was.

Can Passive Voice Work in Fiction Writing?

Passive voice is also sometimes useful in fiction writing. For example, if you were writing a mystery novel and you wanted to highlight missing cookies because they are central to the story, passive voice is the best option. It would make more sense to write, “The cookies were stolen,” instead of “Somebody stole the cookies.”

The difference is subtle, but in the passive sentence “The cookies were stolen,” the focus is on the cookies. In “Somebody stole the cookies,” the focus would be on the unknown somebody.

Passive voice can be helpful if you want to create a sense of mystery in your sentence, which is also a reason that it’s not usually a good choice when you’re writing nonfiction and you want your writing to be clear.

An exception is that scientists are often encouraged to write in passive voice to lend their writing a sense of objectivity–to take themselves and their actions and opinions out of the experimental results. I used to be a scientist and I always found that odd. It felt as if we were trying to hide that real people did the experiments.

Some scientific style guides do allow for a limited use of active voice (1). For example, it may be OK to write, “We sequenced the DNA,” instead of “The DNA was sequenced,” but it’s still considered bad for scientists to insert themselves into conclusions. For example, it would be bad scientific form to write “We believe the mutation causes cancer.” But you still don’t need passive voice to achieve your goals. For example, the active sentence “We believe the mutation causes cancer,” could be changed to “The data suggests that the mutation causes cancer.” That’s still active, but it eliminates the sense of subjectivity.

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If you are still unclear about this aspect of grammar, Ms. Fogarty does have a book on it.

This is one aspect of writing that you can improve on, now that you are aware of the problem.

Good luck!

Get Relevant Content for Your Blogs in 6 Easy Steps

Occasionally, you may sit down to write a blog or an article and poof- the ideas are gone.  All of them!  You want to write but wonder “is this blog interesting or relevant to anyone or am I just wasting my time”?  Well there are some easy ways to get ideas and ones that others will benefit from.

1)Link the idea of your blog to an event that is taking place that day or to a celebrity that just made the news.  People typically want to glean more information from a different angle for current events.

2) Check out your LinkedIn groups.  Questions and problems are constantly being posed.  If you can provide solutions to these problems, not only will people find your post interesting, it will be a post for which people will be quite appreciative. (a good way to get your name out there and remembered)

3) Check out what people are saying on Twitter- it generally reflects topics that  people are talking about and are interested in such as politics, sports, economy, weather conditions, celebrities, events, restaurants, recipes.  If you were to post about these topics, you have a built-in audience.  Monitoring the site with TweetDeck or HootSuite will allow you to see what topics are current and enable you to write compelling content as a result.

4) Follow other bloggers with interests similar to your own.  Then offer to write guest blogs on their content and built-in audience or write comments on blogs that have been written

5) Make a list of keywords that reflect your service, company, products.  Enter them into a Google Alert so that you can catch conversations involving these topics on twitter, facebook or other social media sites.

6) Post questions for your viewers and allow them to contribute their views and takes on a topic. You can then share the comments and answers to the questions or use them as a spring board to another blog article.

Do you have any other ideas for content inspiration and motivation?  Share your thoughts here.

For additional tips, feel free to contact Barbara@TheWriteTreatment.com

What ideas do you have for getting content inspiration on social media? Share your thoughts with us on

The Triple Play Follow-Up

Today, I would like to bring you some tips written by  Bob Bly. My clients have found tips such as these, very helpful in promoting their practices, businesses and services.  They hold true whether you are a solo practitioner, CEO or employee.

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It happens to everyone in the service industry, all the time.

You get a phone call from a great prospect.  He’s a perfect fit for your service- and he seems ready to buy.  So you send him the information he requested about your services. And then you hear nothimg more from him-despite your repeated attempts to get him on the phone.

“What happened?” you ask yourself, agonizing over this seemingly lost opportunity.  “What did I do wrong?”

Relax.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  “I don’t understand,” you think. “He seemed so eager and interested when he first called. Did something happen?”

Yes, something happened.

And here, more likely than not, is what that something is…

The day he called you to inquire about your services, he had a pressing problem that he wanted to solve fast.  But priorities can change in a week, overnight, even in a minute- and suddenly, the problem he called you about is now at the bottom of his priority list instead of at the top.  However, you don’t know this- and so getting the prospect on the phone is still at the top of YOUR priority list.

That’s where the disconnect is: closing the deal is now much more important to YOU than it is to your prospect.  Can you change that?

Some trainers would say yes, and give you a bunch of techniques for making the prospect’s need more urgent.  But those techniques are largely useless.

Propsects move according to their timetable, not yours- and there is nothing you can do to change it. So, how do you save the sale?

Well remember, the prospect still has the problem he called you about- and still needs a solution.  Your challenge is to gain “top of mind” awareness- to implant your service in his mind and link it to the nature of the problems you solve.  Then, when the problem pops up and becomes a priority again, in a week or a month or year from now- and it will- he thinks of you and calls you first.

The way to make that happen is through good, old-fashioned follow-up.

If you sell a professional, creative, consultative, or technical service, the following 3 part Triple Play follow-up system can help you increase your closing rate of leads to sales by as much as 50% or more.

There are 3 components to the system: managed contact, automated contact, and random contact. Let’s take a look at each.  They’re all simple, and anyone can do them.

First, “managed contact” means you use contact management software- such as Goldmine or Act- to instruct your PC to automatically remind you of when it’s time to touch base with any given prospect.  If you’ve never gotten any feedback from the prospect on the best time to contact him again, you should schedule regular phone or e-mail follow-up at an interval that makes sense to you – perhaps monthly or quarterly.

On the other hand, if the prospect has told you the best time to contact him- e.g., “Call me after Labor Day” – program your contact management software to remind you accordingly.

The second part of the Triple Play Follow-up system is “automated contact”. This requires you to publish a monthly online newsletter you distribute free to your clients and prospects.

When you get an inquiry or meet a potential client, you always ask “May I sign you up for a free subscription to our on line newsletter?”  Nine out of ten will say  yes, allowing you to add their e-mail addresss to your subscriber list.

Now a reminder of you and your services- your ezine appears in the prospect’s mail box every month…resulting in an automated monthly follow-up for all new leads added to your list.

The third type of follow-up is random or sporadic follow-up.  This means the follow-up isn’t planned; you just do it when the mood or opportunity arises.

My method of random follow-up is to clip articles from the magazines and newspapers I read that would be of interest to a particular client or prospect.  I scribble a brief note on the clipping, put it in an envelope, affix a stamp and mail it.

And that’s the Triple Play Follow-Up system in a nutshell: managed contact, autmoated contact via enewsetter, random follow-up via the mailing of article clippings.

Any one of these follow-up methods can help make you stand out in your prospect’s mind- and separate you from your competitors.

But the 1-2-3- triple follow-up is an unbeatable combination for imprinting your name indelibly on the prospect’s memory…so that when a need for your services does arise, he calls you first.

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You can ease into this strategy with one step at a time.  Before you know it, all three are in place and the phone calls are rushing in!