by Barbara McNichol
Every year, Dictionary.com selects a word to describe the year coming to a close. About the incredible year of 2020, it said: “At Dictionary.com, the task of choosing a single word to sum up 2020—a year roiled by a public health crisis, an economic downturn, racial injustice, climate disaster, political division, and rampant disinformation—was a challenging and humbling one. But at the same time, our choice was overwhelmingly clear. One word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended—and our language so rapidly transformed—in this unprecedented year.”
The 2020 Word of the Year is PANDEMIC,
What is my personal Word of the Year? FORTUNATE
For all the misfortunes and tragedies people have faced in 2020, our family and friends can call ourselves FORTUNATE (cross fingers). We’ve been healthy, warm, and well-fed. We’ve been able to enjoy the outdoors a lot (except when fires ravaged nearby mountains in the super-hot, dry summer). We’ve done our best to stay connected, learning, exercising, and dancing online. We’ve been motivated to share our fortune through charities and support local businesses along the way. And we’ve counted our blessings that we could still serve our clients as usual. Truly fortunate on this one!
Given all that we CAN’T do—like visiting loved ones including attending Barbara’s mother’s memorial in September—we fill our cups with gratitude. We feel especially grateful for those fighting Covid, teaching kids, and caring for others. We HOPE a better 2021 awaits!
What is YOUR personal Word of the Year? ________ Please share you response below or email me.
Need some ideas? Check these.
WISHING YOU HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND A FORTUNATE NEW YEAR!
by Barbara McNichol
Do you know the difference between an “active” voice and a “passive” voice? Do you know when—and how—to use active verbs and passive verbs to get your message across?
Should you even care?
Yes. Because choosing the right voice changes your message. Don’t let a poor choice trip you up!
Here’s an explanation of the difference between the two voices and why you should pay attention.
How will I recognize active verbs?
These sentences feature active verbs:
- Joanna manages the human resources department.
- Spencer purchases all the office supplies.
- Erik generates $1 million in annual revenue.
Read the same sentences using passive verbs:
- The human resources department is being managed by Joanna.
- All the office supplies are being purchased by Spencer.
- $1 million in annual revenue is being generated by Erik.
The first group of sentences follows a Subject + Verb + Object structure. The second set gets the same message across but in more words. Yet, it lacks clarity and precision.
Why should I choose active instead of passive verbs?
Consider these three reasons:
- Active verbs declare who or what is—or should be—performing the action. You avoid confusion, guesswork, and dodging responsibility. (More on this point to follow.)
- Active verbs make your writing flow better. In business writing especially, your colleagues and clients demand you get to the point quickly.
- Active verbs eliminate the need for extra words, which requires striving to “whack wordiness” in your writing.
When should I use a passive voice?
If you can’t identify the “doer” of the action—the subject—the sentence has probably been constructed in the passive voice.
Even when the subject is clear, though, two clues help you identify “passive” sentences:
- The word “by”
- Variations of the verb “to be”
Use of a passive voice often leads to weasel-like language and can undermine your credibility in business communication. Your readers might think you’re avoiding taking responsibility for an aspect of your company’s service. This could set them on edge.
However, a passive voice can be useful when you require ambiguity. For example:
- Refunds will not be issued.
- Email inquiries will be answered in two business days.
- Votes will be tallied at the end of each session.
Read the same sentences with an active voice:
- The accounting department will not issue refunds.
- Jackson is responsible for answering email inquiries in two business days.
- The nomination committee will tally votes at the end of each session.
Using passive voice can be appropriate when you honestly don’t know the identity of the subject. For example:
- The bank was robbed this afternoon.
- Your product will be delivered tomorrow.
- A ten-thousand-dollar donation was made at the fundraiser.
As details become available, though, you can rewrite the sentences in active voice:
- A former employee, Robert Smith, robbed the bank this afternoon.
- Helen will deliver your product tomorrow.
- The Watson family made a ten-thousand-dollar donation at the fundraiser.
Using active verbs gets others to act.
Readers who understand who is doing the action, where, when, and why, without having to filter through extra words will likely join your cause. This applies to a discussion, a marketing campaign, or even a job application.
Consider these examples:
Passive: Public meetings are being held by the engineering team to discuss the merits of our building proposal.
- Active: The public is invited to meetings with the engineering team to discuss our building proposal.
- Passive: Feedback will be encouraged when our engineering team provides their update to the community.
- Active: The community is encouraged to provide feedback to the engineering team.
- Passive: Repairs are being done on the faulty security software by our IT department.
- Active: The IT department is repairing the faulty security software.
Now it’s your turn. (It’s okay to make up a subject here. Write your answer in the Comments section below.)
- Passive: This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.
Brevity is still bliss.
When writing fiction or nonfiction for recreational readers, using an interesting turn of phrase or literary device like alliteration makes reading a joy. But when readers have to have information quickly, don’t wax prophetic. Use the right tools to help you get to the point and improve your results.
If you’d like to learn more about ways to whack wordiness and tune up your written communication skills, contact me.
by Barbara McNichol
If you resist the effort needed for improving your writing, here’s my suggestion: Make friends with good writing. A shift in attitude—from resisting to embracing—just might make all the difference. And here’s the payoff. When you better your writing skills, you advance your career and make a positive impression.
To meet that objective, here’s a fresh resource filled with must-have skills to jumpstart your resolve: an e-guide called—ta da—Making Friends with Good Writing.
This brand new e-guide comes with a special introductory offer. You’ll save $$ when you use the Coupon code FRIENDS at checkout. Check it out here.
“Barbara’s Making Friends with Good Writing is helpful and first class—just like she is! If you want to know when and why to use or create a style guide or enhance your writing, this e-guide provides answers with clear examples. ” – Peggy Henrikson, editor
Do you know the definition of a chiasmus? It’s a phrase that mirrors itself.
Making Friends with Good Writing offers a compilation of chiasmi that are fun. After reading this e-guide, a reader sent this chiasmus by Garrison Keillor: “When it comes to finding available men in Minnesota, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” She had a fun response, too. “I don’t take his message seriously, though. Thankfully I found a good man!”
Can you create your own chiasmus? Please write it here!
Your English teacher begged, cajoled, implored, beseeched you to use them in your writing.
And when you’re writing poetry or prose, playing with the English language is wonderful.
That’s when active verbs come into play. Using them is critically important in book writing and daily business communication.
What do you mean by active – versus passive – verbs?
Here’s a quick summary.
- Declare who or what is (or should be) performing the action you’re suggesting.
- Help your reader “get to the point” more quickly.
- Tend to eliminate extra words.
How can you identify passive verbs? Think, “To be, or not to be; that is the question.”
It’s a seminal phrase in Shakespeare’s prose and has its place in literature, but any use of the verb “to be” in business communication is passive and doesn’t inspire action.
So here are two examples of passive versus active verbs in a sentence:
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.
When you want to place emphasis on the object of the sentence, passive verbs help.
In these examples, do you see how the passive verb puts emphasis on the watermelon and the employees while the active verbs place the emphasis on the boy and the managers?
It changes the perspective for the reader. And as the writer, you have to ask what you want them to care about?
Own the problem.
In stripped-down terms, not owning the problem is called “passing the buck.”
Passive verbs can be used to hide the person – or people – responsible for a mistake or lack of action. Worse yet, they can be used to validate inaction. For example, when you sign a lease, you’ll likely see a clause along these lines:
“The rules for the homeowners will be enforced.”
Rules by whom?
Or you might have received a message like this during your workday:
“Mistakes were being made that resulted in a failure to comply with regulations.”
Mistakes by whom?
Do you see how the ambiguity of the passive verb lays a foundation for poor business relationships?
What active sentence structure works?
A general pattern for a sentence employs an active verb rather than a passive one. It’s typically “subject + verb + direct object.”
Here’s an example:
“The landlord (subject) will implement (verb) the new safety protocol (object) to ensure renter safety.”
This sentence makes it clear that the landlord is responsible for the actions detailed in the contract.
Now it’s your turn.
Passive: “This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.”
I look forward to hearing from you!
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy these:
by Barbara McNichol
Reading through a book or report or email with lots of word clutter makes me feel like I’m swimming in Jell-O. My mind goes into slow motion. I lose attention. I start thinking about picking dead leaves off plants.
I’m sure you know what I mean by “word clutter.” It’s those long-winded phrases that the writer didn’t take the time to pare down.
Well, I have a magic trick for cutting out dead words and leaving my plants for another day.
Word Clutter Pop Quiz
What is the #1 way to make sentences less verbose and more direct?
Answer: Change long noun phrases to short verbs.
Consider the differences in these 3 examples:
- “They remain in contradiction with themselves” vs. “They contradict themselves.” (“Contradiction” is the noun; “contradict” is the verb.)
- “He made an acknowledgement of her success” vs. “He acknowledged her success.” (“Acknowledgement” is the noun; “acknowledged” is the verb.)
- “She initiated an implementation of the plan.” vs. “She implemented the plan.” (“Implementation” is the noun; “implemented” is the verb.)
See how less wordy and more direct the second version is in each sentence?
And Here’s Another Cagey Trick
If you’re not sure whether you can turn a long-winded noun into an active, lively verb, a dead giveaway is nouns ending in “ion” and “ment.” Notice in these examples the words contradiction, acknowledgement, and implementation. All those nouns have been successfully turned into shorter, more action-oriented verbs.
So the next time you edit your own work, use this magic trick and add more BAM! to your writing.
What writing tricks do you use to reduce word clutter?
By Mary Walewski, guest blogger
It’s time for holiday parties—a season when you attend parties where you only know a few people. There you are, chatting away with total strangers when someone asks you what you do for a living.
“I write books. I just published my latest one,” you say.
“Wow, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”
Before you start on a blow-by-blow description of your subject or plot that leaves them looking around the room for somebody—anybody—to interrupt you, STOP.
You’ve just received an invitation to practice your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About. Its purpose is to keep the conversation going. Most authors feel they need to relay a lot when they’re asked, “What’s your book about?” But that’s not what people really want. They want a one- or two-sentence answer to respond to and generate a conversation.
What is Your Very Short Description?
Before you go to your next party, practice a 10- to 20-second description that will encourage others to respond with questions, not leave them looking for an escape. It’s natural for you to want to tell them all about your book. But, please remember, this is a conversation, not a sales call.
What happens when you begin to describe everything in your book? You shut down the conversation and the other person becomes a hostage to your narrative. Instead, reply with something like, “It’s a mystery novel set in a hospital.” This is short and concise, while encouraging the other person to say something like, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book. How did you get started?”
Then the conversation can continue to a natural conclusion—and that person isn’t suddenly seeing someone across the room to speak to.
Ideas for What to Say at Holiday Parties
Examples of your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About:
- If it’s nonfiction, what problem does it solve? Who is it for?
- “It’s a self-help book for single fathers on how to start dating after divorce.”
- “It’s a diet book for people who don’t want to give up carbs.”
- If it’s fiction, state the genre (Is it mystery, detective, romance, etc.) and where it takes place.
- “It’s a historical novel set during the California Gold Rush.”
- Who’s your main character and what happens to him/her?
- “It’s set during the California Gold Rush. It’s about a sheriff who falls for the local madam in a mining camp.”
May all of your conversations at holiday parties end with “Where can I buy your book?”
Enjoy the season!
Mary Walewski is a book marketing consultant who works with indie authors and publishers. Request her online report The 5 Marketing Habits of Successful Authors at Buy The Book Marketing.com.
by Joan Burge (used with permission)
Did you know that changing just a few of the everyday words you use while conducting business can actually enhance people’s positive impressions of you? Here are three highly effective tips you can start using today.
- “Do” or “can” instead of “try.” When you’re a pro at what you do, you understand the importance of managing expectations among the people you support and work with in the office. That’s why so many of us use the word “try” (as in, “I will try to have that report finished Tuesday”) to buffer our schedules and communicate parameters on tasks and projects. Problem: “Try” has a somewhat wimpy connotation, as if you’re unsure – even when you aren’t, of course! Solution: Replace with variations of the words “do” or “can” instead – and focus on what is definite: “I’ll do a preliminary outline by Tuesday for review,” or “I will complete a preliminary outline Tuesday.”
- “Believe” instead of “think” or “feel.” If you’re a careful listener, you’ll often hear people say something like, “I think/feel the best course of action is….” Communication experts agree that replacing “think/feel” with “believe” expresses even more assertiveness and self-confidence to management, colleagues and clients: “I believe you’re right.” Bonus fact: To communicate even more directly and succinctly, practice dropping the use of “I believe” and stick with the statement itself: “You’re right.”
- “And” instead of “but.” Here’s one of my favorites! See if you can tell the difference between these two statements: “I know you’ve missed the deadline, but…” vs. “I know you’ve missed the deadline, and….” The first sets up a negative “but,” which precedes bad news – and since people know this, they tend to get defensive or tune out whatever follows, regardless of its legitimacy. Conversely, the second statement acknowledges the bad news, yet skillfully avoids the sense that a shoe is about to fall. Result? The “and” says, “We can work on a solution, which is more important than the blame right now” – and people are far more likely to listen, meaning communication improves.
Successful professionals focus on what I call the Can you think of additional ways to change commonly used words or phrases so co-workers and clients respond even better? I encourage you to delve deep and test new ways to communicate verbally and in writing!
Known as the pioneer of the administrative training industry, Joan Burge is an accomplished author, professional speaker, consultant, and corporate trainer. She is the founder, CEO, and visionary of Office Dynamics International, an organization that provides high-performance executive and administrative assistant training and coaching.
How could you change commonly used phrases to increase the responses you get? Share your ideas here.