This week we’re looking at ways to achieve the deceptively simple goal of plain language in written comms.
One key way of doing this is to use active (rather than passive) constructions.
We see the overuse of the passive construction all too commonly in written communications – probably because at some point, someone decided that more words meant better, and the employment of passive constructions is a sure-fire way of achieving more words! Because we now recognise that more doesn’t mean better when it comes to text, it’s essential to be able to distinguish between active and passive constructions end employ each as required.
Compare the following:
“The lawyer wrote the letter”
“The letter was written by the lawyer”
The former is concise and direct: it is the active construction. The latter is the passive construction (and SO often preferred by lawyers!). If you want to get super technical – and if you don’t, skip this part! -, in the active construction the subject is the agent (ie the person who performs the action of the verb); in the passive, the action is performed upon the subject by the agent.
While it’s certainly true that the passive construction is sometimes preferable to the active (for example, when the person who performed the action is unknown or unimportant, or you want to direct attention away from their role), in many cases it can lead to less clear and strong text.
If you feel like the passive construction is overused in your own writing, stay tuned for our new initiative, Thursday Happy Half Hour, launching this Thursday to give you the opportunity to get some tailored tips to improve your written comms!