Continuing in the Business Talk series on professional writing, let us delve deeper into four powerful writing techniques: active, action, and transitions.
Read part one here: Art of international professional writing
Active voice vs passive voice
Often times in verbal English, people utilise lazy passive voice language. Passive voice is how we speak verbally. It is faster since our brain thinks of the target of an action quicker than the subject of a sentence performing action on the target. But for the one receiving the information from the communicator, it is slightly hard and more jolting to absorb the information when phrased actively.
It makes the meaning clearer. It becomes of heightened importance when writing because the receiver will not have the benefit of your non-verbal queues as when speaking that allow for verbal passive voice to be tolerable.
Inasmuch, such passive sentence construction should not allow itself to creep into our writing. An example: “Ugali is eaten by Kenyans” might stand as a common phrase. Do you like how it sounds when you read it? If you heard it audibly, you might not think twice.
Nonetheless, viewing the example in writing does indeed seem odd. What better way might you phrase the sentence to show active voice, not passive voice? Rephrasing the sentence as “Kenyans eat ugali” is much clearer.
When you write a sentence, the object of your sentence should receive the action. So, which sentence is correct? The first: “Everybody eats nyama choma” or the second: “Nyama choma is eaten by everyone”. The first sentence’s object, nyama choma, receives the action, instead of the subject receiving the action in sentence number two.
Therefore, the first sentence stands correct. One more practice: “The citizens are led by President Ruto“ or “President Ruto leads the citizens”. Notice that the second choice provides more direct and clear sentence structure.
No simple actions
Americans, as an example, learn at early ages to avoid over utilising easy simple verbs. It helps to actively avoid the use of boring verbs. Remember from primary school that verbs show action, such as: swim, climb, study, and walk. However, the important feature of verbs that we do not often: our choice of verb matters tremendously. Choose a verb that shows action and makes the sentence interesting. So, instead of stating “I will try”, write “I endeavour to”. Likewise, rather than a simple “We are good”, write a deeper “Optimism fills the company”.
Avoid using simple linking verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, do, did, does, may, might, etc. Now practice writing a paragraph and eliminate such easy verbs. If you customarily utilise linking verbs, then today inserting substitute verbiage and changing around sentence structures should prove challenging for two to three days. By the end of the third day of intentionally avoiding poor verb choices, your writing shall begin to flow more professionally.
Which verbs should you incorporate into your written vocabulary instead of linking verbs? Try: intend, energise, and smash, to name a few. Instead of “the car was crashed”, state “the car hurtled unexpectedly forward and smashed into the wall”. Eliminate as many simple verbs as possible and replace them with powerful action verbs that bring out the depth of your thinking.
Ever read an article, project, or communication that rambles on and then turns topics without you knowing? Suddenly, you realise that the writer changed the subject entirely without you realising it and you cannot grasp the exact subject in the new sentences and paragraphs.
Many writers jump around various topics in one paragraph, thus leaving the reader utterly dismayed and confused. Just putting all the words on paper does not pass for professional writing. Structuring your sentences to easily allow the reader’s eyes to glaze comfortably through the sentences and topics leaves you with optimal professional readability.
As an example, perhaps you desire to communicate that your human resources department intends to delay raises by two months due to a shortage in company liquidity. Utillise the transitional cue “however” to show a shift in thinking during the paragraph: “The Company recognises the hard work put in by employees over the past fiscal year.
Commensurate with the outstanding performance, the Company intends to offer a 15 percent raise for all staff. However, due to a temporary cashflow shortage at a main client, the salary increase shall commence in November rather than September.”
As a professional writer, help move your readers’ eyes down the page similar to how you might incorporate hand gestures during a verbal conversation to notify your listener to shifts in topic or direction. Transitional cues you can use that keep the flow of writing in the same direction: additionally, therefore, inasmuch, moreover, similarly, furthermore, likewise, and also. Transitional cues that you may utilise that shift direction include: however, on the other hand, and nonetheless.