Activate Active Voice!

Based on some calls and notes from readers, some of you are seriously challenging your word use habits in routine workplace communication. Great – I was hoping that would happen. Effective word use is the same, whether the medium you use to communicate those words is an email, a phone call, a face-to-face conversation or a more formal presentation.

So, let’s continue on our journey towards more reader/listener/audience-centric words and challenge another potential word use habit – Passive Voice.

Speak … and write … in the Active Voice whenever possible. While Passive Voice worked for your high school term papers to get you closer to the required word count and help you sound more ‘educated’, it doesn’t work very well in today’s workplace. Active Voice is shorter, simpler and more conversational. The person taking action (the ‘doer’) is identified or clearly implied.

  • So ‘Bob is to be sent your suggestions.’ becomes ‘Send your suggestions to Bob’.
  • ‘The deadline will be determined.’ becomes ‘I/We/Anne will determine the deadline’.
  • Consider ‘I/We/Hector will share the results Monday.’ instead of ‘The results will be shared Monday’.
  • Turn ‘Your help is appreciated.’ into ‘I/We/Sue appreciate(s) your help’.
  • There are a few instances when Passive Voice does work better. When you don’t know ‘who did it’ or do know but can’t tell, opt for Passive. Doesn’t ‘Our office was broken into.’ sound less contrived than ‘A person or persons unknown broke into our office.’ And Lester might prefer ‘Three people will be terminated Friday.’ over ‘Lester will terminate three people Friday.’

So, use active voice as often as possible. It sounds a lot more like people talking to people. And isn’t that what routine workplace writing, interactions and presentations should be?

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