Difference between active voice and passive voice

When I was teaching freelance writing at the University, the difference between active voice and passive voice was something we discussed regularly. It’s much easier to write with a passive voice than active, but the benefits of turning it around are powerful.

First, your writing is more concise as you will be using fewer words.
Second, the meaning of your writing will be clear.
Third, the words you use will be more vibrant.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Here are some examples to help you understand the difference between an active voice and a passive voice:

Passive – The envelope was opened by the manager.
Active – The manager opened the envelope.

Instead of writing:
The main switch should be turned on; or
It is recommended…

Reword the instructions to read:
Turn on the main switch; or
I/We recommend…

Readability Statistics

Computer programs are very clever. They can tell when you have written a passive phrase. A green line appears on your computer screen underneath the passive sentence or part of the sentence. This is your wake-up call; now is the time to rewrite it to make it active.

Simply click on Tools in your Word document then click Spelling and Grammar and tick the box to Check Grammar. If this box is active, it will check the grammar as you type.

You can also get readability statistics from your computer program. Go to Tools, Options, Spelling and Grammar and tick the Show readability statistics.

After spelling and grammar have been checked, the following will appear:

Readability Statistics

Counts

Words                                    446
Characters                         2,376
Paragraphs                              31
Sentences                                15

Average

Sentences per paragraph    1.5
Words per sentence           17.9
Characters per word            5.1

 

Readability

Passive sentences                        33%   *
Flesch Reading Ease                 48.6% **
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level     10.9   ***

*        The percentage should be as low as possible, try to keep it under 10%.
**      The higher the score, the easier it is to read. Aim for between 60 and 70 per cent.
***     For most standard documents, aim for a level of around 10 to 11.

Readability is everything.

(For the record, the passive sentence percentage for this post was only 4%.)

Please visit my services page if you would like to know more about what I do.

How to remove redundant phrases

Before you can remove redundant phrases, first, you have to recognise that they exist and in some sectors of business that is near to impossible, for example, government, science, insurance, etc.

The majority of people will have heard the saying, “why use three words when one will do”, and in certain circumstances this is perfectly correct.

Unfortunately, these days, this has been carried to the extreme and quite often, what has been written really doesn’t make much sense.

At the other end of the spectrum, you may have heard bloated sentences or phrases and wondered what the speaker or writer really meant.

Here are some examples of phrases that can easily be reduced:

At this point in time – now
Based on the fact that – because
Bring to finality – end, conclude
In terms of – regarding
In view of the above mentioned – therefore
Over the period of a decade – ten years
Please find enclosed – enclosed

You can probably add to these.

Leaving out phrases

Leave out some phrases completely or rewrite the sentence. For example:

In terms of the marketing strategy, we intend to use a good cross section of exposure…

This can be rewritten as…
We intend to use a good cross section of exposure in our marketing strategy.

Our marketing strategy will give us a good cross section of exposure.

Here are some of the most popular phrases and often they are completely unnecessary:

In terms of
In order to
During the month of
In consideration of the fact that

I’m sure you can add to these.

You need to be vigilant because bloated phrases can easily creep into your writing.

Keep a record

If there are certain phrases you use all the time, open a word document, write the phrase and an alternative. If necessary, print this page so you can add to it or refer to it when you are writing. The next time you go to use the wordy phrase refer to your list and you will begin to use the more concise version.

An easy way to fix this is, write the way you usually do and then go back through the document and remove redundant phrases and use the more concise alternative.

Example of the difference it can make

A few years ago, a legal firm asked if I could help with rewriting a tender response. This firm had been trying for six years to win a particular contract, but had not succeeded.

When I read the proposed submission, it was full of legal terms and legal speak. It was difficult to read and understand, so I was not surprised this firm had been unsuccessful with its tender in the past.

A lawyer helped me decipher the content, then, I rewrote it into plain English without losing any of the technical intent. A few weeks later, I learnt the law firm had successfully been awarded the very lucrative contract.

Please visit my services page if you would like to know more about what I do.

Check headings and sub-headings when editing documents

As a freelance copywriter, I see many problems when I’m editing documents, one of them is the placement of headings and sub-headings.

Many documents have them scattered haphazardly throughout with little, if any, connection to the following text.

Alternatively, some documents are so content dense that I’m not surprised the message is misunderstood. Readers have to wade through long paragraphs with very few headings. This is one of the reasons documents often remain unread.

The answer…

Make sure you have inserted enough headings and sub-headings. When you’re writing a heading, use as few words as possible without losing the meaning. Ensure the following paragraphs relate only to the heading. When you have finished writing that bit, insert a new sub-heading or heading. Write the following content relating to that heading, and so on throughout the document.

Check headings and sub-headings are meaningful when editing documents.

When you write this way, you are forced to think about the structure of the content and its natural flow.

I’m not suggesting every document you write will need heaps of headings and sub-headings. What I am proposing is you consider inserting headings and sub-heading, where appropriate, for clarity and ease of reading.

Orphaned Headings

Orphaned means the heading is at the bottom of a column of text and the content at the beginning of the next column. Or the heading is at the bottom of one page and the relevant content is on the following page. You can fix the problem in three ways:

Columns

  1. Add as many lines of text as necessary to force the heading to the top of the next column.

Pages

  1. Insert a page break before the heading this forces it to the next page.
  2. If you have set up a style where the content on each page finishes in the same place on the page (which makes the page look good), you will need to write another few lines or a paragraph, which will naturally force the heading to the next page.

When you are editing or doing the final read always check to ensure there are no orphaned headings.

Many articles or documents are printed in column layout. An easy way for you to check if there will be any orphaned headings is to change the layout to columns in the draft document before you do the final proof read.

Skim Readers

Today people are skim readers and visually scan a page reading the headings and sub-headings before choosing which bit they want to read first. If there are no headings or only a few, skim readers become frustrated and move on, this is especially true when reading longer web pages.

Consider this when structuring and writing your material.

This is particularly relevant when you are writing proposals and reports. Many readers look at the table of contents choose which section they want to read first, then skip back to the contents to choose another section.

It’s not common for the majority of readers to begin at page one and read the entire document page by page until the end – Hence the importance of excellent headings and sub-headings.

Next time you are reading, become more conscious of “how” you read, not just what you’re reading.

Please visit my services page if you would like to know more about what I do.

Communicating clearly

As a freelance copywriter, I know the importance of communicating clearly with prospective clients. I also know that the rules for content writing have changed, but not many other people have taken any notice.

Some untrained writers still churn out what they think readers want to know without doing much or any research. If your content is not of the highest quality, you’re wasting your time and effort. More importantly, you are not communicating clearly.

Today, readers are time poor and want as much information as possible and instantly. For this reason content must be more accessible than it has ever been before. You need lots of sub-headings so people can read quickly and understood just as quickly. Remove any ambiguity. If a reader has to read the material more than once, you have failed as a communicator.

Website Content

Your website is often the first contact a prospective client will have with your company. If you don’t make an excellent impression within the first three seconds, your prospect will go to another site.

A web designer will tell you “it’s the design and structure” you need to spend the money on. Yes, design and structure do count. As a freelance copywriter I know that if the content is not good enough, no amount of fluff, colour, wiz bang sliding imagery will sell the prospect on your company or products. The content sells who you are and what you do and importantly the benefits of working with you. Unfortunately, graphics alone can’t do that.

Your written material needs to be clear, concise, plain English, readable, specific for readers and definitely no jargon. It has to be easy to scan so readers can go directly to the information they want to know.

Electronic Devices

People are reading written material on all sorts of devices, so make sure it looks good on a small telephone screen as it does on a desk top computer. This means considering sentence and paragraph length. There is nothing worse than big blocks of text that look difficult to read.

Your job is to make it as easy as possible for prospective clients to do business with you.

If you would like to know more about what I do please visit my services page.

Why you should write down your goals

Despite what you may think, setting goals is not difficult and they are more achievable if you write them down. All it takes is a little time to think about what you want to achieve and then write a plan to make it happen.

If you don’t write down your goals, they are less likely to become reality.

When you work for yourself as I do as a freelance copywriter, I know it is important to have simple ways to set goals and note my achievements.

Setting an income goal

I know that setting income goals is usually at the top of the list because being rewarded for your work is important. If you want to earn $50,000 a year, that’s $1,000 per week, $200 per day, and if you charge $50 per hour, that’s four chargeable hours a day. Double all these figures if you want to earn $100,000 a year.

Don’t keep the figures in your head, write down exactly what you want to achieve.

Now that wasn’t difficult.

Goals and your to-do list

On Friday decide the goals you want to achieve during the next week and write them in your diary on Sunday or in your electronic calendar. On Monday write your to-do list for each day in your diary  or electronic calendar so you have a plan to achieve your goal. I use a paper diary as this works best for me. The list should have about three to five activities.

Turn to Saturday in your paper diary or electronic calendar and list each day’s successes there. This is a reminder how you are moving towards your goal.

You may not have signed a multi million dollar contract, discussed the formula for changing the world, but I bet almost without exception you have achieved much more than you realise, simply because you didn’t write it down at the time. Or thought it was not worth recording.

Here’s a quote “A self-employed person plays their own tune and stands out from the rest of the band”.

Make sure you acknowledge your successes regardless of how small.

I’m a freelance copywriter and if you would like to know more about what I do, please visit my services page.

Tips on writing readable content to attract prospective clients

When I’m speaking to clients, I tell them they need good readable content if they want to connect with people.  Their messages should never contain a long, difficult word when the simple version would be much better. For example:

  • Fugacious means fleeting, hard to capture
  • Precipitation means showers, drizzle, rain, rainfall
  • Somnambulism means sleepwalking
  • Ameliorate means improve
  • Ambulatory means moveable
  • Clandestine means secret.

It’s important not to use three words when one will do. Although, it’s not good to reduce a phrase to just one or two words if the person reading the message will not be able to make sense of it. Remember you are aiming for good readable content.

Read sentences carefully because some phrases can be left out completely or the sentence can be rewritten. For example:

In terms of the marketing strategy, we intend to use a good cross section of exposure…. The alternatives are… We intend to use a good cross section of exposure in our marketing strategy. Or… Our marketing strategy will give us a good cross section of exposure.

Your aim is to have good readable content and using plain English will make all the difference.

Sentence Length for Readable Content

Studies have shown the average length is between 15 and 20 words: 25 maximum, so don’t make your sentences too long.

When writing advertising and marketing material write sentences of between 10 and 16 words, and cap the length at 20 words for formal writing, procedures manuals and other instruction material. Tailor the sentence length to the message.

If you’ve written sentences with 30, 35 or 40 words, rewrite the sentence. Usually, you can take out, “and, the, that and but”, add a full stop/period and start a new sentence.

The longer the sentence, the more concentration is needed to understand the message.

Paragraph Length

The same rule applies to the length of paragraphs. If they are too long they will look like a solid block of text and readers may think the message is too hard to read and won’t bother.

Keep paragraphs to between two and four sentences to make them easy on the eye and readable.

If you would like to know more about what I do, please visit my services page.

Are you having trouble writing tender submissions?

As a freelance copywriter, I’ve helped many companies with writing successful tender submissions. This tip is to help you understand what you need to include when writing winning tender submissions.

You must demonstrate to a prospective client that you’re the best person/company to handle their business. You must also demonstrate that you understand what they need and can deliver it.

Competitive Tendering

Competitive tendering isn’t about what you do. It’s about what you can do for the client. Tell the client what you have done for other companies and how this is similar to the requirements of the tender request. Demonstrate that you have the skills, capabilities and flexibility to do the work and make life easier for the client.

If you’re responding to a tender for work with a new client show them (in your paperwork) how you will:

  • Service the contract
  • Report on your progress
  • Provide innovative ways to help the client.

In fact, provide whatever the client needs to choose you and your business.

If you already hold a tender and need to re-tender you still have to show the client that you’re the best person/company for the job. Don’t forget there will always be a competitor. Competitors will challenge you for the work. Your job is to make it easy for the client to re-contract with you. Let them know why you’re the lowest risk option.

Contracts worth millions of dollars go to tender and it’s in your best interest to secure as many contracts as possible. This is a great way to grow your business.

Regardless of whether you’re a micro business, small, medium or large enterprise, work in the services, products or manufacturing industries, winning contracts and where possible becoming a preferred contractor will provide the desired income and cash flow stability.

Six tips to help with writing winning tender submissions:

  • Read the whole tender request document carefully at least twice
  • Make a list of what information you need to gather so you can prepare the best response
  • If possible, collaborate with others in your company
  • Schedule time to write the response
  • Don’t leave it too late to ask for help if you’re finding the process difficult
  • Never miss the deadline.

Apart from standard information about your company, never cut and paste from a previous submission. The evaluation panel will always know.

The final tip, check the response document for any spelling, typo and grammatical errors. Then check it again for readability and consistency.

If you want to win, your response must show the evaluation panel you are the best prospect for the contract.

Good luck.

If you’re still having trouble, send me an email, I’d love to help.