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Write right! Being pro-active in your writing results in clearer, concise, and energetic communiques.

I have found that comptrollers place great importance on clear writing. While I teach many skills to make writing dearer, perhaps the single most important thing most writers can do is to write in active voice rather than passive voice.

The use of passive voice often creates awkward sentences and causes prose to seem fiat and uninteresting. Although there are times when passive voice is acceptable, or even preferred, you should generally avoid its use. Here are three ways to reduce passive voice in your writing.

Put the noun before the verb.

Put the actor or doer before the action or the thing being done.

Don't write: The man was bitten by the dog.

Write: The dog bit the man.

Don't write: The accounting rules were broken by the auditors.

Write: The auditors broke the accounting rules.

Don't write: Appropriate business attire should be worn by all attendees at the PDI.

Write: All PDI attendees should wear appropriate business attire.

Drop part of the verb.

Passive voice often results from including unneeded verbs or overusing be verbs such as am, is, was, are, were, be, being, and been. Consider the following examples.

Don't write: The list is given on page two.

Write: The list is on page two or The list appears on page two.

Don't write: A deposit of one hundred dollars was made by her.

Write: She made a deposit of one hundred dollars.

Use a different verb.

Don't write: The vase has not been received Write: The vase has not arrived.

Don't write: The correct format is shown in Speaking Effectively.

Write: The correct format appears in Speaking Effectively, or Speaking Effectively provides the correct format.

Passive voice is useful in at least three situations:

* When we want to draw attention to the person or thing acted upon: The victim was apparently robbed in the middle of the night.

* When the process or principle being described is more important than the actor: The first page should be filled out before you proceed to the second.

* When the actor is unknown: The forms had been filed before the supervisor arrived.

So what's wrong with using passive voice often? Nothing, really; it's just not usually the best method to relay ideas. While passive voice has its place in writing, active voice is dearer, sharper, and more energetic. And it marks you as a better and more confident communicator.

Dr. John A. Kline is a writer and speaker living in Montgomery, Alabama, the director of the Troy University Institute for Leadership Development, and a frequent presenter at ASMC PDIs. Visit his Web site at
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Author:Kline, John A.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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