You’ve probably read news articles that started like this: The Supreme Court today overturned a lower-court ruling that held unconstitutional a law ending the ban on trans-fats in restaurant food.
What a mess. Few readers will understand after reading that sentence whether the Court ruled in favor of trans-fats or against them. I’m still not sure what the statement says exactly—and I wrote it!
You actually have to map out a sentence like this, starting from the end. First, a law banned trans-fats in restaurants. Then another law ended that ban. Then a higher court undid that law. And on and on it goes. Don’t do this to your reader.
Some work-related documents are written this way:
HR is ending the practice of allowing department heads to stop project leaders from approving comp time for employees working unpaid overtime.
Re-word the statement to make it clear:
Several department heads have overturned comp time for employees who work unpaid overtime. HR is ending this practice and starting a new policy that grants project leaders the authority to approve comp time for their employees who work unpaid overtime.
If you’ve read much of my work, you’ve probably read my frantic warnings that writing is a “sinlge-task” activity — that when you’re writing, you should be only writing.
But you’re busy. Often you’ve got three, five… 15 things on your to-do list. How can you possibly set aside a long stretch of uninterrupted quiet time whenever you have to write a work-related document?
Fair question. So let’s attack this problem from another angle.
Here’s a short time-management workbook I wrote for a seminar company in which I’m a partner. Maybe the ideas in this workbook can help you get more done with your day — and help you give your writing the time and clear thinking it deserves.
Oh, and if these ideas work for you — or if they don’t — I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To your productivity!
Just gave a webinar presentation, called Leading Effective Meetings, hosted by the business-publication company Business Management Daily.
My opening line as the call started: “Thank you for joining this webinar. Snacks and drinks are at the back of the room.”
I’m going to start a recurring post that I’ll call The Passive Aggressive Files. These are amusing real-world uses of the passive voice to hide, conceal blame, or soften criticism. (This first episode includes all three!) Hope you enjoy it. And if you have examples you’d like to share, please let me know — at email@example.com.
One of my clients copied me on an email thread today, discussing the progress of a document that I’ve been helping them write. The back-and-forth in this email didn’t actually involve me at all — but I’m glad they thought to include me, or I would’ve missed this passive-voice brawl…
Employee 1: Did you ever send me the sample invoices we need for the proposal document?
Notice how we start out using a straightforward, active voice — ”Did you ever send me….” No need to hide behind the passive voice… yet.
Employee 2: No sample invoices were sent. I don’t believe I was asked for any.
Boom. Employee 2 throws the first passive-voice punch.
Employee 1: A request was definitely made for sample invoices. We will need them to complete the billing questions in the proposal.
Pow! Employee 1 isn’t backing down!
Employee 2: If a request was sent for sample invoices, perhaps a copy of that email could be shown to me.
Oh yeah? Prove it, Employee 1!
Employee 1: The request might have been verbal; please send us three sample invoices, issued this calendar year, ASAP.
Okay, maybe I forgot to ask you. Sorry.
I love the passive voice. Every time I hear or read it, laughter is caused within me.