Improve your business writing in one stepNovember 14th, 2019
Good writing skills are important for professionals all over the world. The way you write reflects on you both personally and professionally. Good business writing shows more than just your grasp of grammar. It shows how clearly you think and how well you understand a subject. This is also what makes business writing challenging, but it’s still a highly desirable skill.
Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, highlighted the growing relevance of business writing skills in his book, Rework (recommended reading by Total Synergy CEO, Scott Osborne).
“Writing is making a comeback all over our society. Look at how much people email and text message now rather than talk on the phone. Look at how much communication happens via instant messaging and blogging.”
The good news is business writing gets easier with practice. I’m not a professional writer but I’ve written a lot throughout my marketing career from business plans to website copy to customer emails. Today, I’m responsible for helping Team Total Synergy write in a clear and consistent voice. This becomes increasingly important as our team grows and more people are responsible for writing #marketingcantwriteitall.
We’ve published a comprehensive editorial style guide at Total Synergy to help us write clearly and consistently across products, teams and channels. But my top tip for improving your business writing (gleaned from the editors’ dreaded red pen and years of rework) is write in the active voice (not passive).
A passive voice is not wrong, but the active voice is stronger and more compelling to read. So what’s the difference? Glad you asked.
The difference between active and passive voice
Your high school English teacher probably taught you:
- In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action
- In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it
There is a strong possibility your brain shut down at this point in class, or you were thinking: ‘I’m never going to use this in real life!’. So here’s some examples to better illustrate the difference:
|PASSIVE VOICE||ACTIVE VOICE|
|The account was logged into by Apinya.||Apinya logged into the account.|
|Marketing is adored by development.||Development adore marketing.|
|The squirrel was chased by Scott.||Scott chased the squirrel.|
A quick way to check your writing for passive voice is to ID common ‘passive voice’ words like “by” and “was”. If you spot them, find the subject in the sentence and make sure they are doing the action (rather than having the action done to them) — see below image.
Don’t worry, it still hurts my head too and I’m a communications major. But practice really does makes perfect. Keep proofing your writing and circling those passive voice words in red pen until the active voice becomes your business writing default.