by Dee Dukehart (used with permission)
Spring’s the time for planting, nourishing and growing, and not just plants and vegetables.
When you present your ideas, knowledge, directions, or how to’s, plant your points into the readers’ minds with word pictures, and continue to nourish the points along the way. When you want to grow their learning, their future, and their well-being, use action verbs and descriptive information.
Describe your points with action verbs: verbs you can “see”: e.g., produce, generate, write, sell, achieve, deliver, etc. When possible, rid your spoken and written words of auxiliary verbs: e.g., is, was, has, had, have, etc. Use a strong, action verb in their place if you can.
- We had an increase in sales last quarter. OR Our sales increased by 14 percent last quarter.
- It was a great day for our team. OR We signed three new contracts today!
Which one gets you to “see” the action? Of course the second sentence.
How to Plant Word Pictures
Meetings get bogged down in minutia: a “quick” meeting can sometimes lag into hours. Make your meetings and presentations memorable with points that are worthy of everyone’s time. What seeds of information are you cultivating for them to reap personal and professional benefits?
What do you remember from last week’s meetings? What do you remember from a sales call? What do you remember from any training? When you want listeners to remember your points, plant word pictures in their minds.
How? Rid your writing of vague expressions such as these:
What pictures do you conjure up in your mind when you read those words? Can you “see” the concept of better? Understand? Soon? No. Information needs to show “color” like your garden, so nourish and feed it so you can “see” the knowledge blossom.
Consider These Variations
1) Instead of “better” use a statistic. “Your production escalates by x percent within a year when you use these tools.”
2) Your sales numbers were “satisfactory.” Instead: “Your sales numbers exceeded our goal by 65 widgets; let’s get to 100 by fourth quarter.”
3) “Understand?” Everyone understands differently. Instead: “You will recognize/identify your new time management skills by the extra hour in your day.”
4) “Improves.” By how much? By how many? By when? Instead: “Accomplish your goals in six fewer steps with this process.”
5) “Soon.” What date? What time? What quarter? Instead: “Get your initial draft to me by the end of the week. We expect to see our new product on the shelves in 45 days.”
Strive to plant a picture in your readers’ minds, then nourish your points with review and repetition. Your ideas, knowledge, products or services, and how-to’s will grow more fruit.
Here’s to your great harvest seasons of information.
Dee Dukehart is a marketing communications trainer who can be reached at 303-549-0045 or Dee@DeeDukehart.com
Before detecting the “passive” voice and addressing how to change it to “active,” consider why you should care.
Active verbs will improve your writing (most of the time) because:
- Active verbs declare who or what is (or should be) performing the action; you avoid confusion, guesswork, or dodging responsibility.
- Active verbs make your writing flow more easily; readers will more quickly get the ideas you want to convey.
- Sentences constructed in the active voice usually require fewer words; you constantly want to aim to write concisely!
How to Identify “Passive”
As a reader, if you can’t identify the doer of the action—the subject—the sentence has likely been constructed in the passive voice. Even when the subject is clear, two clues help you identify “passive” use: 1) the word “by” and 2) variations of the verb “to be.”
Consider these sentences:
Passive—“The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy.”
Active—“The boy chomped into the watermelon’s juicy belly.”
Passive—“Employees are seen by their managers as responsive and enthusiastic.”
Active—“Managers see their employees as responsive and enthusiastic.”
In addition, passive verbs can foster weasel-like communication. They might be used to hide who’s responsible for an action, thus evading accountability rather than declaring it. For example, if a contract states “the rules for the homeowners will be enforced” but doesn’t note who will enforce those rules, what’s the result? Ambiguity. Confusion. Inaction.
How to Identify “Active”
The pattern for an active sentence is typically “subject + verb + direct object.” The direct object is the recipient of the action—that is, what or whom the verb affects. Example: The employees (subject) implement (verb) the new strategy (object). Who’s doing the action of implementing the new strategy? The employees. Thus, it’s clear the employees are accountable for the action.
Notice the passive construction in the following sentence and rewrite it, making sure to use an active verb. (Hint: You’ll need to make up a subject.)
Passive: This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.
Use the clues I’ve provided to identify passive sentences you’ve written and revise them. Not sure if you rewrote one or more of them correctly? Share them with me via email, and I’ll provide feedback.
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.