So, you want to become a better writer.
Maybe you even want to write your novel and get that villa in the Aegean you've had your eye on. Or maybe you just want your writing to say good things about you, your training and your organization.
If you're serious about becoming a better writer, start following this simple rule: Write in the active voice.
If you're like most people, you don't really know what the active voice is. You were absent that day, right?
For starters, the active voice is the opposite of the passive voice, in which the subject of a sentence plays a passive role, because something else acts upon it -- exactly the kind of grammarian flapdoodle nobody remembers.
So forget all that. Just learn to recognize and avoid the passive voice. Do this, and you'll take a giant step toward more forceful, more persuasive writing.
Here's how to recognize the passive voice: Look for forms of the verb to be that appear in combination with other verbs. These other verbs often appear with the ending "ing," but not always.
Everybody knows the forms of the verb to be: is, am, are, was, were, be and been.
Grammar school stuff.
Check out this example of a sentence in the passive voice: "The rules were issued by the Department of Administrative Services on February 1."
Notice that the verb issued appears with a form of the verb to be, which is were in this case. The subject of the sentence is rules, but something else acts upon it (the Department of Administrative Services).
To convert this sentence to the active voice, simply get rid of the form of the verb to be, and rewrite it with the subject that actually does something:
"The Department of Administrative Services issued the new rules on February 1."
The active voice lets you express the idea more forcefully, using fewer words. Better still, it tells you exactly who or what performed the action. Simple, eh?
Check out the next egregious example of the passive voice:
"The Department of Administrative Services will be issuing rules on February 1."
In this one, the subject doesn't even act. It simply exists, like a dead bug. Note, too, that the verb issuing appears with a form of the dreaded verb to be, which in this case is be.
To fix it, rewrite the sentence with an active verb, dropping the "ing" form:
"The Department of Administrative Services will issue rules on February 1."
The new sentence saves words and doesn't dilute the verb issue with a form of the verb to be. Sweet.
Studies have shown that passive writing tires the reader and dulls the meaning of the work. Most readers simply won't finish a lengthy piece laden with the passive voice. And because editors know the passive voice adds words to a sentence and obscures the meaning, they often reject otherwise good work, since column inches are valuable.
If you're serious about improving your writing, work at using the active voice. Remember: Writing in the passive is like wearing a sandwich board that says, "I'm an amateur!".