Posts Tagged ‘content’

Active Voice Versus Passive Voice

Friday, October 31st, 2014

The difference between the active voice and passive voice is easy to understand.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. The active voice answers the question “Who or what performed the action?”. Examples are: “John dropped the ball.” and “The dog barked at the cat.”

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. The passive voice answers the question “What action was done by whom?” or “What action was done by what?”. Examples are: “The ball was dropped by John.” and “The cat was bitten by the dog.”

Why use the active voice

  • It emphasizes who or what performed the action.
  • Your reader grasps the meaning more quickly. This is important especially if your reader is using your content to do something urgent.
  • Your content is more powerful and direct, which keeps the reader interested.

When to use the passive voice

  • It is useful if you want to emphasize the receiver rather than the doer of the action.
  • You use the passive voice if you do not know who is performing the action.
  • You can use it to protect someone’s name from being released or to be tactful, for example, “Mistakes were not noticed.”

What are your thoughts on the active versus the passive voice? Please share them in the comments.

Know Your Audience

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Whether you’re writing a book, blog, article, newsletter, web content or ebook, you need to know your audience.

The saying “different strokes for different folks” applies to plain language. What is plain language to one audience may not be plain language for another.

It’s impossible to know every aspect about your audience because there are too many factors to consider. However, it’s vital that you understand your audience as much as you can. Ask yourself the questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they know about your topic? Are they beginners, experts or somewhere in between?
  • What is their age group and gender?
  • What is their culture?
  • What is their level of education and skills?
  • What is their occupation?
  • How will they access your content (print, online, mobile device)?
  • Will they access your content from work, home, or while travelling?
  • What information do they need? Do you teach to teach them? Inform them? Entertain them? Persuade them? Train them?
  • Does your audience have unique needs or interests?

You can get answers to these questions by talking to your audience directly in one and one meetings or in focus groups. You can also talk to experts – like subject matter experts, sales and marketing staff, and customer representatives – who know your audience well.

Knowing your audience is an essential first step to writing content that meets their needs. You avoid the embarrassing problem of writing content that is not relevant to them and the expense – in time and money – of having to rewrite the content.

So, what about you? How do you get to know your audience? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

How to Write Well

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

You don’t need to be Shakespeare to write well. The secret to good writing is to write in plain language.

What is plain language

Plain language is writing from your audience’s point of view. When you create content (print or online) in plain language, your audience can quickly and easily:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find the first time they read it
  • Do the right thing based on their understanding

Plain language depends on the audience. What is plain language to one audience may not be plain language to another. For example, an astrophysicist will easily understand astrophysics written in plain language; however, a person without an astrophysics background may not.

What plain language is not

Plain language is not a religion. Some people  get too fanatical and believe that all technical terms and long words should be eliminated. Doing this blindly can introduce errors and change the meaning of your content, which can ultimately turn your audience off.

Plain language is not only short words and short sentences. While these two guidelines play a very important role in plain language, you should also organize the content in a way that makes sense for your audience.

Plain language is not dumbing down the text. The goal of plain language is not to insult people’s intelligence. Rather, the goal is to express ideas clearly and accurately.

Why do we need plain language

Life is getting busier and more frantic everyday. Your audience doesn’t want to waste time “decoding” the meaning of difficult, wordy content. Plain language saves time and frustration because your audience can understand your content more quickly.

Plain language saves money on training and support because your audience won’t ask as many questions or make as many mistakes. They can follow your procedures more easily, complete forms more accurately and comply more accurately with your policies and regulations.

Plain language is good customer service. It keeps customers coming back to not only your content but also to your company.

Plain language can even save lives. How many times have you heard about medical mistakes because someone misread or misunderstood something?

While plain language can be a lot of work in the beginning, it pays huge benefits in the end.

How do we write in plain language

This is the million dollar question. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

#1: Know your audience.

#2: Write in the active voice, whenever possible. The active voice explains “who is doing what”.

#3: Keep your sentences short and simple.

#4: Address the audience as “you” to keep them engaged.

#5: Make the content visually appealing.

#6: Organize the content.

#7: Omit needless words or repetition.

#8: Use graphics, tables and charts to explain complex information.

#9: Don’t force your reader to figure out the meaning. Avoid ambiguous wording such as “and/or”, multiple negatives and unnecessary qualifiers.

#10: Test your content with your audience. For example, if you’re writing instructions on how to set up a new printer, have your audience follow your instructions and tell you if something is missing.

Got any ideas on plain language? Let me know in your comments.