Posted by: Jack Henry | August 26, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Passive Voice – Fixing Evasion #1

As promised, today is the first real installment of “5 passive-voice evasions and how to fix them,” by Josh Bernoff. To set the stage of this article, Mr. Bernoff uses examples of passive voice from an article about the city of Boston bidding for the 2024 Olympics. The article includes all five of the things you can hide or lose when you write in passive voice. On the left (bold) are Bernoff’s five passive voice evasions, with my additions in parentheses.

· Who is reading this? (Who is the audience?)

· Who is writing this? (Where did this information come from? Who is the source?)

· Who did this stuff? (Who is culpable?)

· Has anybody done this? (Who is accountable? Who will do this?)

· Who is going to pay? (Who is ultimately responsible for this?)

Beginning today, we’ll deal with each one of these and how to fix it. The examples are from the UMass Donahue Institute report. Passive voice is in bold italic.

#1: Who’s reading this?

You want your audience to do something after reading what you write. But who is that audience? Passive obscures the uncertainty, even as it leaves the reader wondering who’s supposed to act.


· [These] issues that will need to be closely monitored in order to ensure the public sector is protected from extensive financial commitments. [KC – Who will monitor the issues?]

· It can hardly be considered a “slam dunk” that tourism will increase in Greater Boston and Massachusetts over the long run from hosting the Olympics. [KC – Who is this addressing? Who can hardly consider this?]

How to fix: Be explicit about who in the audience should act, or use “you.”


[KC – The actors and audience are clear in these rewritten examples.]

· Public planners must monitor these issues to protect the public from financial commitments.

· You cannot count on an increase in tourism from the Olympics.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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