Learn to write in an Active Voice NOT a Passive Voice
Many beginner writers are not aware of the common mistake of writing in a passive voice, or even know what the passive voice is.
What is the passive voice?
The passive voice and active voice, are the prime differences between writing well, like published writers you read, and an amateur writer that can't understand why his work isn't as good.
Writing in the active voice rather than the passive voice, gives your writing more life and more clarity. And that can affect your career prospects. Use the active voice unless doing so makes a sentence awkward. <-- That is incorrect.
ALWAYS write in an active voice. Your writing will stand out, and your readers will perceive you as more energetic than if you had used passive voice. If you are in sales or marketing, the active voice should dominate your writing style. No matter what field you are in, active voice will improve your credibility because you are talking to the reader instead of at the reader. Passive voice indicates an unwillingness or inability to communicate, because it is indirect.
A verb is in the active voice when it expresses an action the subject performs.
A verb is in the passive voice when it expresses an action performed upon the subject or when the subject is the result of the action.
Here are examples that show, rather than tell, what active voice is:
The drawing is being reviewed by Bill.
To do this, a mandrel is inserted into the bore.
The building was struck by lightning.
The switchgear was installed by a contractor.
A motor drive was purchased and installed by Roger.
The bid was won by a company that used bidding software.
A successful project was expected by all the staff.
Bill is reviewing the drawing.
To do this, insert a mandrel into the bore.
Lightning struck the building.
A contractor installed the switchgear.
Roger purchased and installed a motor drive.
A company that used bidding software won the bid.
All the staff expected a successful project.
Passive voice is usually awkward and unclear. Active voice is usually clear, emphatic, and flowing. It is also direct. Thus, good writers prefer active voice because we want interesting information to flow in a clear and direct manner for our readers. Readers prefer active voice (whether they are aware of it or not), because it decreases the amount of mental work required for understanding the text. People naturally have a more positive reaction to active voice than they do to passive voice. In many circles, especially technical fields like engineering, law, and medicine, writers falsely assume passive voice makes them look more "professional." Don't fall into that trap.
You can express some things better with passive voice, but usually it is better to rewrite the thought such that passive voice isn't necessary. Every instance of it reduces directness.
Tips on making sure you have active voice:
Use Word's grammar checker, making sure the settings allow it to look for passive voice.
You can teach yourself active voice writing by highlighting and checking one paragraph at a time.
Rewrite and repeat.
If a sentence starts with "There is," you probably have passive voice. Read it closely.
Verbs preceded by "was" or "is" are signs of passive voice construction. (See the examples above.)
Verbs followed with "by" are signs of passive voice. (See the examples above.)
Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully -
in Ten Minutes, by Stephen King
I. The First Introduction
THAT'S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers' school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.
II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write
When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.
Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension ... what we called "a three-day vacation" in those dim days of 1964.
I wasn't suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies - they were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth - and spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my talents. This was a job - contingent upon the editor's approval - writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page weekly of the sort with which any small-town resident will be familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould - not the famed New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires, but a relative of both, I believe.
He told me he needed a sports writer and we could "try each other out" if I wanted.
I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports.
Gould nodded and said, "You'll learn."
I said I would at least try to learn. Gould gave me a huge roll of yellow paper and promised me a wage of 1/2¢ per word. The first two pieces I wrote had to do with a high school basketball game in which a member of my school team broke the Lisbon High scoring record. One of these pieces was straight reportage. The second was a feature article.
I brought them to Gould the day after the game, so he'd have them for the paper, which came out Fridays. He read the straight piece, made two minor corrections, and spiked it. Then he started in on the feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece - it deserves to be framed, editorial corrections and all - but I can remember pretty well how it looked when he had finished with it. Here's an example:
(note: this is before the edit marks indicated on King's original copy)
Last night, in the well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High School, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom, known as "Bullet" Bob for both his size and accuracy, scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed ... and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his knight-like quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon thinclads since 1953....
(after edit marks)
Last night, in the Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed ... and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon's basketball team since 1953....
When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have indicated above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was revelation.
"I only took out the bad parts, you know," he said. "Most of it's pretty good."
"I know," I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. "I won't do it again."
"If that's true," he said, "you'll never have to work again. You can do this for a living." Then he threw back his head and laughed.
And he was right; I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can keep on, I don't expect ever to have to work again.
III. The Second Introduction
All of what follows has been said before. If you are interested enough in writing to be a purchaser of this magazine, you will have either heard or read all (or almost all) of it before. Thousands of writing courses are taught across the United States each year; seminars are convened; guest lecturers talk, then answer questions, then drink as many gin and tonics as their expense-fees will allow, and it all boils down to what follows.
I am going to tell you these things again because often people will only listen - really listen - to someone who makes a lot of money doing the thing he's talking about. This is sad but true. And I told you the story above not to make myself sound like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel but to make a point: I saw, I listened, and I learned. Until that day in John Gould's little office, I had been writing first drafts of stories which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were apt to run 3,300 words. Following that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I sold the first one.
So here it is, with all the bark stripped off. It'll take ten minutes to read, and you can apply it right away ... if you listen.
IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully
That's everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.
My ten minutes are up.
Ref: The above article is copyright Stephen King, 1988
"Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes"
by Stephen King (reprinted in Sylvia K. Burack, ed. The
Writer's Handbook. Boston, MA: Writer, Inc., 1988: 3-9)
Articles Page Two
"In every talented person with a small desire to write-- hides a truly gifted writer, once armed with a little knowledge and good editing."