by Barbara McNichol
What’s the single most important change you can make in your writing? Learn to use active construction to add clarity and action to your message.
Watch out for “is” words and their various cousins.
Stay alert to phrases like “is happening” or “was being good”;
change them to “happens” or “behaved.” Search out every
weak “is” form in your manuscript and find a strong
Avoid “Start” and “Begin”–“Just” too
Don’t overuse the words “start to” and “begin.” What
can you do differently? “Start to rub your hands together”
becomes “rub your hands together”; “allow your energy
fields to begin merg ing” becomes “allow your energy fields
to merge.” Are you guilty of overusing these two weak words?
In fact, I’d put the word “just” in the same “weak” category.
I love what one of my subscribers wrote: “I don’t have a
Begin or Start habit. I do, though, have a Just habit. I just
can’t kick it. It just seems appropriate when you just do
something . . . like I just read your newsletter. Without the
just, I could have read it anytime.”
Lazy Linking Phrases
Add to that a few lazy linking phrases like “there are” and
“there will be.” Rewrite them! For example, “There will be
many representatives elected” becomes “voters will elect
many representatives.” (Better yet, instead of many, use a
Why do I call these phrases lazy? Because they often lead
into long passive sentences that stem the flow and slow
readers down. When your readers have to swim upstream to
follow what you write, they tend to give up. Better to ease
them along with crisp, sharp prose—especially active verbs!
Yes, I do keep beating this drum about active verbs because
they will make your writing better. Change passive to active
and you’ll see how they improve the flow, enhance the clarity,
and add muscle to the meaning.
Challenge: Rewrite these sentences using active construction:
- Passive: This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.
- Passive: Improvement will be noted in most cases (or instances).
- Passive: The procedure was changed in order to reduce the necessary steps.