Prefer the Active Voice

THERE are a couple of ways you could text your buttercake-crazy writing teacher to find out how much butter goes into her orange buttercake:

(a) How much butter is needed? (passive)
(b) How much butter do I need? (active)

If you can’t quite see why (a) is passive, this should help:

(a) How much butter is needed (by me)?

Now, that’s just less forceful, isn’t it? And it doesn’t sound as good, though it’d still get you your butter information, and a yummy cake.

***
What happens when you begin your letter in a passive voice? Let’s check out a mailer I received recently, a letter concerning the SG50 Funpack—probably a template, nationwide one—from Ms. Sim Ann, the MP for my constituency, Holland-Bukit Timah.

Titled “LET’S CELEBRATE NATIONAL DAY 2015 TOGETHER!” the letter reads like so:

     A postcard has been sent to you informing you that every Singaporean and Permanent Resident household will receive one SG Funpack as a gift from the Nation in commemoration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

2   The Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) of your condominium will be informing you on the collection of the SG Funpack shortly.

3   Please bring the postcard which was sent to you earlier and your NRIC to collect your funpack.

*

If Ms. Sim Ann had asked me to edit the letter, I’d have suggested this revision with four edits:

      We have sent you a postcard informing you that every Singaporean and Permanent Resident household will receive one SG Funpack as a gift from the Nation to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

2   The Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) of your condominium will be informing you shortly when and where to collect the SG Funpack.

3   Please bring the postcard which was sent to you earlier and your NRIC to collect your funpack.

1. Change the passive voice in the opening line to active. Notice how much warmer and more personal the active voice sounds just by adding that magical pronoun, “We.” It establishes an immediate connection—Minister and her team with the residents.

2. Changing the noun “commemoration” to the verb “to commemorate” lends more fluidity to the sentence. It also softens the stiff, formal tone of “in commemoration of.”

3. Following the same principle in (2), we change “collection” to “collect.” Did you just say “when and where”? Now, you’re talking! The specifics just sound brighter and better—like you’re really talking to me.

4. Omit needless words. Watch the strikethrough. Not one or two words gone, but six!


You may also enjoy:
The Active Voice of Lee Kuan Yew
.. GE 2015 – Don’t the Newspapers Just Love the Passive Voice?

We invite you to share your thoughts if you have other editorial suggestions, or write us at viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any curious, odd encounters with language you’d like us to feature and fix.

Improve It!” offers insights on how to revise, rewrite, snip, edit, move words around for style, clarity, and conciseness. We take a short extract from an article, polish it, and show you how and why we made the changes we did.

 

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