Head it up

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Don’t be afraid to use headings and subheadings to break up your writing.

When you’re writing something that’s over a page long or that has several different sections to it, it makes sense to use headings to help your reader find their way through.

Headings and subheadings divide the text up into more manageable chunks and let the reader know what each section is going to be about.

Headings

You can use the title, headline or main heading of your writing to get the reader’s attention. For example, if you were writing an article for a local news blog, you’d probably want a title that highlights the drama of the story…:

Still Going for Gold: Wafflington Pensioner Prepares for New York Marathon

…rather than one that just states the facts:

Local Man Enters Race

This technique isn’t just for journalists. If you’re designing your marketing resources, writing an important paper or even just sending an email you really want your colleagues to read, make the most of the heading. A bold, dramatic or intriguing title can go a long way, so don’t be shy.

Subheadings

Once you get into the main body of the text, subheadings can help your reader find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s say you’re writing a letter to your customers to let them know about your new shop premises. In the letter, you’re going to explain where the new shop is, where they can park and the new range of products you have in stock. Adding a few subheadings will help the reader navigate the information and find the details they need.

Dear customer,

Thank you for supporting Woofflington Groomers, Wafflington’s award-winning pet grooming service.

Our new shop

We’re delighted to announce that we have now moved into new premises at 14 Wafflington High Street, WZ99 112 (next to Swish Cut Hairdressers). Our new shop is now open and we are accepting bookings. Please do pop in and say hello. 

How to find us

The new shop is on the number 5 bus route or the nearest car park is St James’s Street carpark, next to the Town Hall. You can find full directions on our website: wooflingtongroomerswafflington.co.uk

New in stock

From March 2019, we will be stocking the highly-requested ‘Furry Friend’ ferret combs and the all new ‘Beak It’ duck moisturiser. Please ask in store for more details. If you require a specific product, please do ask and we will be happy to order it in for you.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new shop soon.

Katherine and the Wooflington Groomers team

A good heading or subheading can make all the difference in your writing. Be bold, be clear and help your reader find their way.

Workshop: Using the passive voice

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The passive voice is finally having its moment. It may not be as dynamic or direct as the active voice, but as we’re about to find out, it does have its special uses.

Let’s take a look at this letter:

Using the passive 1It’s clear, concise and to the point, but perhaps it’s a little on the harsh side. It sounds almost as though poor Mrs Witherby has done something wrong.

The writer has used the active voice throughout the letter. In most scenarios, the active would be the best choice, but there’s a rather accusing tone to it here.

Using the passive 2

This is one of those rare occasions when it’s better to be indirect. The passive voice is great for taking the edge off an accusation and that’s exactly what we need here.

Using the passive 3

By using the passive voice, we’ve softened the tone and let Mrs Witherby off the hook. It’s a much less confrontational letter as a result.

 

The active voice or the passive voice. Which one do you naturally gravitate towards? Let us know in the comments below:

Using the passive voice

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In the last couple of blogs, we’ve been singing the praises of the active voice. So clear. So direct. So full of energy.

But this week, it’s the passive voice’s time to shine.

As much as we’ve been slating the passive voice for its ambiguity, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Here are three situations when the passive voice can save the day:

 

  1. The Whodunnit

Sometimes, you just don’t know who did it. The passive voice is the ideal option when there’s no clear ‘doing’ person.

For example:

My car was stolen on Wednesday.

The house was built in 1876.

 

  1. The Sensitive Subject

If you’re writing about a difficult topic, the passive voice can be a gentle way to avoid awkwardness. Perhaps it’s an uncomfortable topic for the reader. Maybe you are reprimanding the reader but don’t want to sound confrontational.

In these situations, the active voice can sound a little harsh:

The dentist will make an incision in your gum and pull the tooth out using plyers.

You have not paid your electric bill, so we will be cutting off your electricity.

The passive voice softens the tone:

An incision will be made in the gum and the tooth will be removed using plyers.

As the electricity bill has not been paid, the electricity supply will be cut off.

Beware of using the passive too much when you’re cautioning or criticising the reader. It can all too easily sound passive aggressive.

 

  1. The Dodge

When you or your organisation have messed up, the passive voice is one way of dodging the full force of the blame.

The active voice forces you to identify the culprit, even if it’s you:

We have lost your application and did not keep a copy on file.

The passive voice allows you to skulk in the shadows a bit:

Unfortunately, your application has been lost and a copy was not kept on file.

It’s a good trick to know for emergencies, but use with caution. As tempting as it may be to keep pulling the passive out, it’s often overused. Readers tend to appreciate a direct confession rather than a vague dodge.

 

So, there you have it. The active voice is usually the way to go, but the passive voice does have its uses.

Come back on Thursday to see the passive voice taking centre stage in our Write for Real People Workshop.

Workshop: Using the active voice

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On Monday we put on our grammar hats and looked at the difference between the active and passive voices. We also discovered that the active voice is usually the best way to go.

With all this new knowledge, we’re ready to start putting the active voice into action.

Here’s a letter that could do with our attention:

Using the active voice

The writer has used the passive voice throughout this letter. Once you start using the passive, it’s hard to get out of the habit…

Using the active voice 2The result is a rather impersonal tone and a few key gaps in the information for the reader. It’s not clear who will be looking after the reader’s child. It all sounds a bit vague and uncaring, which is not exactly what you’d want for your child’s school.

Let’s see if we can help this writer bring some warmth and clarity back with the active voice:

Using the active voice 3By introducing the active voice, we’ve also introduced Mrs Gill, the teacher. Now we know who is going to be registering the children and taking them to their classroom.

We’ve also addressed the parents directly by asking them to bring and collect their children, rather than simply implying this via the passive voice. It’s all sounding much friendlier.

Using the active voice can transform your writing. Most of the time…

Come back on Monday for three dilemmas that only the passive voice can resolve…

Using the active voice

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This week we’re comparing the active voice and the passive voice.

It sounds scarily grammatical, but stay with me. Once you know how to use them, the active and passive voices are powerful writing tools.

What is the active voice?

The active voice is all about energy, direction and, yes, action.

We usually write simple sentences in the active voice. Here’s an example:

Rosie built the shed.

The person who is acting (Rosie) is at the beginning of the sentence. She comes before the verb (built). She kicks off the action and the sentence continues from there.

What is the passive voice?

You could also write this sentence in the passive voice.

The shed was built by Rosie.

This time Rosie, the ‘doing’ person, comes after the verb. The shed is now at the beginning.

We can even use the passive voice to take Rosie out of the sentence altogether:

The shed was built on Monday.

In this version we don’t know who built the shed. We can use the passive to hide the identity of the ‘doing’ person. They become a grammatical secret agent.

Three reasons to use the active voice

People tend to use the passive voice far more than they need to. Most of the time, the active voice is the best option:

  • It’s clear

It’s amazing how confusing the passive voice can be. Here’s an example:

The medication should be given on Wednesday and taken on the same day.

This rather odd sentence makes much more sense when we put it in the active voice:

The pharmacist should be given to the patient on Wednesday. The patient should take it on the same day.

Avoid the passive voice and you avoid confusion.

  • It’s dynamic

You can tell that the ‘passive voice’ isn’t a party animal just from its name. It’s clunky and lifeless, and it sucks the excitement out of any sentence it meets.

Holly was proposed to. (Sorry? Did you say something?)

Holly was proposed to by David. (What was that about Holly and David?)

Let’s try the active voice:

David proposed to Holly! (Woohoo! Crack open the champagne!)

  • There are no secret agents

One of the most unhelpful things about the passive voice is the way it can hide the ‘doing’ person.

When you arrive at the hospital, you will be taken to the ward.

Did you spot the ‘secret agent’? The writer has left out the person who will take the patient to the ward. This makes it harder for the reader to imagine what will happen when they arrive at hospital.

It even sounds a bit threatening, as though some faceless individual will grab them from behind and march them off under protest.

We can remove this unnecessary mystery by using the active voice:

When you arrive at the hospital, one of our nurses will take you to the ward.

By identifying the ‘doing’ person, we’ve made this sentence much clearer and friendlier. It may seem like a little thing, but it makes a big difference.

 

Let’s put the active voice into action! Come back on Thursday for grammatical fun in the Write for Real People Workshop.

Of course, there are times when the passive really is necessary, but we’ll save those for next week…