Sound like a limp noodle? Remove passive voice. (Part II.)

Looking for ways to strengthen your tone in your business writing? Replacing weak verbs with active ones, swapping camouflaged verbs with real ones, but also eradicating passive voice from your writing improves how your readers hear you. This blog provides three ways to spot passive constructions in your business writing.

Tip One: State the doer of the action up top

Ask yourself: Have I stated the doer of the action up top? Can I read the sentence and determine who did what? If not, your sentence likely remains passive vs. active. Let’s look at three examples:

1/ Due to vandalism this toilet block may be closed at night.

In the above sentence, we need a comma after our introductory phrase; then, we need to state who did what. Consider this edit:

To prevent vandalism, we’re closing this toilet block at night. Or, To prevent vandalism, park rangers will close this toilet block at night.

2/ On-site training sessions have been cancelled today due to inclement weather.

“We’ve cancelled on-site training sessions today due to inclement weather,” becomes more active and kinder-sounding, too.

3/ The Town Hall meeting was called by the director of operations.

We know who called the meeting; however, until we state who did what up top, the sentence remains passive. Consider this edit:

The operations director called the Town Hall meeting.

Tip Two: Can you ask by whom or by what?

As you revise your own copy, always check if you can ask by whom or by what? If so, your sentence lacks active voice. See the following examples I’ve modified from real-world CEO messages.

1/ What were required were radical improvements, he said.

Required by whom/what? Try: The team required radical improvements, he said.

2/ Our operating environment is expected to change dramatically over the coming years.

Who expects that change? Try: We expect dramatic changes in our operating environment over coming years.

3/ We believe that our successful, two-pronged business model in California can be exported to some other regions internationally.

Who can export that thriving model? By whom? Try: We can (will) export our successful, two-pronged business model in California to other international regions.

Tip Three: Program Word to proof for passive

One final tip then I’m signing off. Program Microsoft Word to detect passive sentences in your writing as part of your spell check. I can’t say the system captures all passive voice, but it does catch and reinforce the rule until you feel more solid. Follow these quick steps:

  • Open your Word file. Click file, options, and proofing.
  • Click settings. From the ‘style’ sections, select ‘passive sentences’ then, ‘OK.’

During your next spelling and grammar review of your work, Word should now point out passive sentences where they surface and explain the rule.

What tips work for you? How do you detect passive voice in your writing? We’re all ears. Write to us! More blogs on passive voice live here. 


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