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Words in Motion

from WordDrive Communications
Writing in service to your voice

April 2010

Your Writing Has Been Polished
Managing the Passive Voice
Unless you've been living on the moon, you probably know by now that the passive voice is considered (oops, there it is)** a bad idea in most writing. Here's why--and some exercises:

What is the passive voice?
The passive voice happens when you make the object of a sentence into the subject. For example, Marco kissed Susie becomes Susie was kissed by Marco.

Why avoid the passive voice?
1. It usually involves more words than you need. (See "The Art of Brevity" in the archives).

2. It suggests a lack of energy. Why? Because with the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is putting up with an action done to it.

Exercise: (Try this one before you read down to my suggested rewrites.)

The Neighborhood Clinic has been awarded the Red Cross Service Prize by the Smith Foundation.

# # # # #

Ready? You could say, "The foundation awarded the prize to the clinic."

Even better: "The Neighborhood Clinic earned (not received) the Red Cross Service Prize." The clinic becomes the subject of the sentence, and appears a lively actor in its community.

As Strunk & White put it many years ago, "Many a tame sentence . . . can be made** lively and emphatic by substituting . . .the active voice."

Try two more exercises:

Financial disaster was avoided by the Greenway Clinic when its director of accounting was replaced promptly.

When the museum's basement is flooded by Henry's Creek, pumps are turned on and most of the damage is contained by quick action.

**On the other hand, there is an exception to every rule. Sometimes the passive voice allows you to emphasize a particular subject--as when Strunk & White open their sentence with "Many a tame sentence . . ." as the subject.
From the Fountain Pen: Hula Hoops
Remember Bartleby, the Scrivener? He was the clerk in a Herman Melville story who started refusing assignments, apparently out of boredom.

If Bartleby were alive today, he'd have YouTube and Twitter. He could work with color and action, and put together a video for his company that suggested it was a place of energy and humanity (if it was).

I say this because I recently came across a Boston Children's Hospital video about hula-hooping. Enjoy!

See you in May!

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In This Issue
Your Writing Has Been Polished
From the Fountain Pen: Hula Hoops
Social Media Snapshot
Selected helpful links:

Still in doubt about using social media?

Looking for guidelines?

A good example of a patient-centered website

Want to learn more?  For the next three weeks my white paper,

"Social Media for Hospitals and Health Care Organizations"

is available to subscribers at no charge.

Contact me if you'd like a copy.
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