Write in the active voice most of the time

When you write in conversational style, you'll also find yourself writing mostly active sentences. Active sentences help people grab information quickly and easily.

Sentences in the active voice (active sentences) describe "who does what to whom." In an active sentence, the person or thing doing the action (the actor) comes before the verb. That's the logical word order for English sentences.

Sentences in the passive voice (passive sentences) start with the object that is acted on rather than with the actor. They either put the actor after the verb in a "by . . ." phrase or they leave the actor out entirely. Figure 8-14 gives you examples of active and passive sentences.

Active sentence

Active sentence

Figure 8-14 Sentences in the active voice put the actor (the "doer") before the verb. In most situations, active sentences are easier to understand than passive sentences.

I am not saying that every sentence must be in the active voice. When you want to focus on the object or when it really does not matter who is responsible for doing the action, the passive voice may be appropriate.

When an entire web page is in the passive, however, people have a very hard time reading it. Their eyes glaze over; they lose interest. Too much of the passive voice is both boring and really difficult to understand.

Figure 8-15 is a set of instructions from a university web site about ordering laboratory supplies. If you had to order something, what would you do? Would you ask a colleague to show you how to do it rather than try to make sense of this web page?

In a fascinating study some years ago (with pages from a published document that was very much like the web example in Figure 8-15), the researchers asked people to read the pages and say everything they were thinking out loud. The people in the study translated what they read as they went along, turning the writing into active sentences with actors and action verbs. That's a lot of mental work. And the readers misinterpreted many of the passive sentences; their translations were wrong.

"The Scenario Principle" by Flower, Hayes, and Swartz. You'll find the full reference in the bibliography.

Laboratory Supplies

The ordering of laboratory supplies is done through the departmental buyer, in The general procedure for this is to fill out

The description of the items needed must also be specific. An item number should be looked up in the catalogs in the office and written the ITEM blank, along with a description The QUANTITY and UNIT/SIZE items are very important. Some supplies comes in cases, thus only indicating QUAN. "1" could mean "one," or "one case." Thus, if the item comes in s case, this should be indicated in the UNIT/SIZE blank The price must also be indicated in the appropriate blank The order form must be signed, and the name must be printed -as^welTf the name is not printed, and the buyer cannot read the signature, he/she will not know whom to notify when the order arrives To further simplify this, it would be very useful to not only write the daytime phone number, but also the e-mail address E-mail is the easiest and most convenient method for notification. The completed order forms should be returned to the black container in the office.

f^S The page does not talk f /directly to the person wh ^ needs the supplies.

f^S The page does not talk f /directly to the person wh ^ needs the supplies.

S^S Is this web content easy fto work with quickly?

Figure 8-15 An example of how the passive voice can make web content difficult to understand and use.

Figure 8-15 An example of how the passive voice can make web content difficult to understand and use.

Remember that we are trying to help busy people grab what they need. In most situations, people get the information from active sentences more quickly and more accurately than from passive sentences. And writing in the active voice pressures you to find out who is responsible for actions - information that your site visitors often need to know.

Figure 8-16 shows how we could make the web content in Figure 8-15 easy for people to use quickly and accurately.

Ordering Laboratory Supplies

The departmental buyer in handles all orders for laboratory supplies. If you need supplies, fill out the form. You can get the form from the buyer in

1. Fill out the form

To assure that you get the correct supplies, fill out the form carefully and correctly. Please pay special attention to these parts of the form:

• ITEM: Look up the item in the catalogs in the office. Put in both the item number and a specific description.

• QUANTITY and UNIT/SIZE: Be sure to tell us both quantity and unit/size. If you write "1" for quantity but don't tell us the unit / size, we won't know if you want 1 piece or 1 case.

■ PRICE: You must fill out the space for phce. The catalog you are ordering from should tell you the price.

2. Sign and print your name on the form

When you have filled out all the information about the supplies you need, be sure to sign the form and print your name. We want to get the supplies to you. but if we can't read your name, we won't know to whom to deliver them.

3. Give us your phone number and email address

We need to know how to reach you. Please give us both a phone number and an email address, we find email is the easiest way to contact people

4. Turn in the completed form

Put your completed order form in the black container in

The buyer will handle your order and notify you when your supplies arrive

Figure 8-16 My suggestion for revising Figure 8-15.

4. Write simple, short, straightforward sentences 185

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