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The Boring Passive Voice


“Your writing bores me.” “I am bored by your writing.”

Not only do these two sentences demonstrate the difference between the active and passive voice but also they communicate a central reason for avoiding the passive voice.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action described by the main verb. Thus, the subject is active. In the passive voice, the action is done to the subject. Thus, the subject is passive. Passive voice is a problem for direct writing and for reader interest.

Direct writing answers the readers’ question “Who did what?” It tells the reader what the subject is and what the subject did. This is, by definition, the active voice. Let’s look at an example, using the first two sentences above.

“Your writing bores me.” The subject is “writing” (or “your writing”). The subject is performing an action: boring me. This sentence is in the active voice. It is also more interesting than the second sentences. Readers will focus on the subject of the sentence, and in this sentence, the subject is doing something.

“I am bored by your writing.” The subject is “I.” This subject is not doing anything. Rather, the action is being done to the subject. This sentence, therefore, is in the passive voice. It is less interesting than the first sentence because the subject, which is the focus of the sentence, isn’t doing anything.

If you write many sentences in the passive voice, the reader may feel the sentiment expressed in the example sentences: boredom.

As we can see from these examples, the passive voice is not direct writing and is less engaging than the active voice. Clear, direct, and interesting writing, by contrast, uses the active voice. Continue reading

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Be More Active with Your Writing


Active and Passive Voice: When you are active, you do something. When you are passive, things happen to you. This is the same concept as the active and passive voice in sentences.

In the active voice, the subject performs the action described by the main verb. In the passive voice, the action described by the main verb is done to the subject.

Example D.1a, active voice: “The service team collected the parts.”
(subject: service team; main verb: collected)
Example D.1b, passive voice: “The parts were collected by the service team.”
(subject: parts; main verb: collected)

In example D.1a, the subject did the action, so the sentence is active. In example D.1b, the action was done to the subject, so the sentence is passive.

To determine whether your sentence is active or passive, first find the subject and main verb. Then ask, “Is the subject doing the verb?” If the answer is Yes, the sentence is active. If the answer is No, the sentence is passive.

If we describe this concept as a formula, we get this:

S >> V = active (the subject does the action)
V >> S = passive (the action is done to the subject)

Grammatically, the active voice looks like this:

Subject – Verb – Object (i.e., Who did what to whom?).

On the other hand, the passive voice uses the object as the subject of the verb, resulting in

Subject&Object – Verb (i.e., To whom was it done?). Continue reading

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Comma with “Including” Changes the Meaning


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Where you add or leave out a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.

Let’s look at a news story I read this morning to learn how a comma before “including” changes the meaning of the sentence. In this example, I think the writer left out a comma, thus communicating something that probably isn’t true.

“The Chicago Teachers Union has [sic] announced that it will send a bus to the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, a full week of events to be hosted by the four children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several organizations including Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.” (http://news.yahoo.com/chicago-teachers-union-headed-washington-fight-trayvon-against-124604748.html)

Leaving out the Comma before “Including”

The central concept to remember here is that commas separate information. On the other hand, leaving out a comma connects the information.

In this example, the writer chose to leave out the comma before “including.” By doing so, the writer connects the phrase “including Al Sharpton’s National Action Network” to “several organizations.” This means the organizations include (are involved with, collaborate with, have as a partner) Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Indeed, “Al Sharpton’s National Action Network” describes “organizations.”

To say it another way, the organizations hosting the march are those that are involved with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. If this is true, then organizations that are not involved with Al Sharpton’s organization are not hosting the event.

This is a bit tricky to understand, I know, so let’s look at a simpler example that follows the same pattern, uses “including,” and leaves out a comma.

“I enjoy making desserts including chocolate pudding.”

In this short example, the desserts I enjoy making are those desserts that have chocolate pudding in them. I may enjoy making many types of desserts, but here I’m talking about the desserts that have chocolate pudding as an ingredient. Thus, “chocolate pudding” is part of the description of the desserts. In question and answer format, the sentence means this:

“What type of desserts do I enjoy making? Those desserts including chocolate pudding.”

Now let’s go back to the original example.

“What types of organizations are hosting the event? Those organizations including Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.”

I don’t think this is what the writer meant to say.

Adding the Comma before “Including”

If leaving out a comma indicates that “Al Sharpton’s National Action Network” describes “organizations,” then putting a comma in separates “organizations” from “Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.” With a comma, “Al Sharpton’s National Action Network” is no longer a description of “organizations.”

So what does the sentence mean if we put in the comma? Simply, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network is one of the organizations hosting the event. It doesn’t describe all the organizations but is, rather, one of them.

This, too, may be a bit tricky, so let’s look at a simpler example.

“I enjoy making deserts, including chocolate pudding.”

In this simple example, one type of dessert, among several, is “chocolate pudding.”

Now, back to the original example. “Al Sharpton’s National Action Network” is one of several organizations hosting the event. With the comma, the word “including” is similar to “for example” and “such as,” as follows.

“…a full week of events to be hosted by the four children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several organizations, such as / for example Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.”

I think that this is what the writer meant. However, without the comma, this is not what the writer communicated. What the writer meant and what the writer actually said are different.

What’s the Point of This?

When you use commas correctly, you are more likely to communicate what you mean, and the reader is more likely to have the correct understanding of your intended message.


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4 Strategies for Objective Writing


Good technical or academic writing is objective, yet many writers inadvertently insert their own opinions about, and responses to, the content. In this way, they damage their credibility and reduce the value of what they write.

Feelings, emotions, opinions, and beliefs are called, collectively, individual perspective. An individual perspective indicates the perspective of one person: the writer. In all forms of technical writing, your individual perspective is inappropriate.

Think about your reader. Your reader is seeking believable, credible information. Your opinions, etc. are not believable, credible information. They only apply to you; they do not apply to your reader.

The most obvious cases are sentence that contain such phrases as I feel that, I believe, and in my opinion. If you can express the idea as a fact, do so. If you cannot express the idea without those phrases, remove the sentence entirely.

Writers also interject their individual perspectives by using particular words and by making judgments, as explained below. Continue reading

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“Was” vs. “Were”


I have a question. Please answer my question. Which choice is correct? A or B? and why?
A) If I were you, I would help the poor.
B) If I was you, I would help the poor.
Well, as you know both a) and b) are conditional unreal clauses . My friend says that educated people will never ever use option B) and that option B) is used just by illiterate people.  He says that in conditional unreal clauses, one should use only the were form of be no matter what the subject.
Do you agree with my friend? As an educated person, do you use WAS in your speeches and writings when it comes to the “if clauses” of conditional unreal clauses?

 

Farhad,

Your friend is both right and wrong.

Your friend is right that option A (“were”) is the correct usage. When using conditional clauses (such as beginning with “if”) and when the condition is unreal or imaginary, the correct verb form is “were.”

For example, “If I were a painter, I would paint my own house.” The conditional unreal clause is “If I were a painter.” It establishes a condition for painting my own house, and it is unreal because I am not a painter.

Your friend is wrong that educated people never use option B (“was”). They do, although the incorrect usage is more common in speech than in writing.

When people speak casually, they tend to use speech habits and not analyze their word usage carefully. Indeed, the value of habits is that we can act without conscious decision-making, but it can lead to problems, as well. I probably use “was” in speech sometimes, although I am far more likely to use “were.” In my case, the correct usage is a trained, consciously developed habit. Now, “were” sounds more natural to me than “was.”

The reason many people use the wrong form, particularly in speech, is that people tend to use language the way they commonly hear the language, particularly how they heard the language used in their early years. The result is that the “wrong” usage sounds correct and natural and they don’t realize that they make mistakes.

We see the same problems with usage of “data” and “staff,” for example.


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  • 5 top strategies from
    Bang! Writing with Impact
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    Which Word Do I Use?
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The Confusion of And vs. To


English can be a difficult language to learn, not because English grammar is tricky (though it can be) but because the language can be vague. Word choice, in particular, can be very confusing, particularly when more than one word is possible. 

Here’s a question I received recently about the nuances of the English language.

Question: Which of the following is correct:
a. I would like to send Peter an email AND give him my regards.
b. I would like to send Peter an email TO give him my regards.

As in so many cases, the answer is . . . both, depending on your intended meaning. Let’s look at these two statements to figure out which one to use.

SENTENCE A: AND

“I would like to send Peter an email AND give him my regards.”

This statement has two potential meanings.

First, this sentence could mean that I want to do two separate actions: (1) send Peter an email, and (2) give Peter my regards. These actions might happen at the same time, or they might not. This sentence isn’t clear. To understand how this sentence describes two actions, we can compare it to a similar sentence with the same structure: “I want to make a million dollars AND take a trip to the Bahamas.” They are separate actions.  Continue reading

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How Many Chaplains?


Our friend, the English teacher in Iran, asked another good question. Unlike his questions about the singular or plural use of “any,” this one has a straightforward answer. (Fortunately!) Here’s his question.

The Question

I have just bought a novel, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. 

There is a page about Jonathan Swift’s life. There, I found a sentence which I cannot analyze grammatically, no matter how much I am scratching my head to come up with an answer. The sentence is: 

“At the age of thirty-one, Swift returned to Ireland as chaplain to a lord justice.” 

To me, this sentence is 100% wrong grammatically. It should be: 

“At the age of thirty-one, Swift returned to Ireland as A chaplain to a lord justice.” 

Here is my reason: “chaplain” cannot be used without an “A” in front of it because it is in singular and an “A” is needed in front of it.

What do you think? Do you agree with me?  Continue reading

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