Posts Tagged ‘passive voice’

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #8

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-23-2012

Write Active sentences: Active sentences specify who must do what. Passive sentences only say that something must be done. And they leave the reader wondering if he’s the one that must do it.

Instead of this: The application file needs to be reprocessed with the updated information.

Write this: Please update your application so that we can reprocess it.

In business writing, documents sent to the reader (a patron, member, prospective client, etc.) usually require something of the reader. They may need to send a form back, enroll or reenroll in a program; whatever they must do, use active voice so they know how to do it!

If you have read other posts in our blog, you’ll know we love Microsoft Word and everything it offers. There is a feature that allows you to check if you have any passive sentences. Although this is not the final element in editing your work for passive sentences, it certainly helps!

You can review the percentage of passive sentences in your document under readability statistics. To find out more on readability statistics, including how to find and open, check out a post from earlier this month:


A green squiggly line will appear under the passive phrase. If you don’t have a grammar checker, scan your manuscript for any form of “be” (“be,” “being,” “been.”) They’re usually a good indicator of a passive sentence. Try to rewrite these sentences to state the subject (you, our representative, I, Mr. Smith), a clear verb (process, send, call) and the description of what the subject must do (or has done.)

In order to keep with plain language, use active voice. It will make for a happier, more informed reader with fewer questions – which is the true goal of plain language.

Readabiliy Statistics in Microsoft Word

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-09-2012

This brief, step-by-step tutorial will outline how to check the readability statistics for any document written in Microsoft Word. The readability statistics can be extremely useful when considering the audience. We try to remain as up to date as possible here at QubComm, so this tutorial is for Microsoft Word 2007. Some of the steps below may stray a bit when using a different version of Microsoft Word.

1. After fully composing your document, click “Review” in the toolbar at the top of the page.

2. Click “Spelling and Grammar” in the upper-left corner of the screen.

3. Run through the “Spelling and Grammar” checker to make sure your document has no spelling errors and follows basic grammatical rules.

4. When the “Spelling and Grammar” checker is complete, the “Readability Statistics” box should open, listing some useful information about your document. (If this box does not open, continue the steps. If the box does open, skip down to the picture.)

5. If the “Readability Statistics” box does not open, click the circular Microsoft logo in the upper-left corner of the screen.

6. Click “Word Options”, which is located at the bottom of the dialog box as a button.

7. In the “Word Options” dialog box, click “Proofing” on the left side of the box.

8. The third heading down titled, “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” contains a handful of options to check. Check “Show readability statistics”, then press OK!

Example of Readability Statistics from previous blog post.

The “Counts” section shows the writer’s statistics regarding the number of words, characters (letters, punctuation and numbers), paragraphs, and sentences. The “Averages” segment is interesting as well, as it allows the writer to visualize more important information regarding their work, such as the average number of sentences in each paragraph, the average number of words per sentence, and the average number of characters per word.

The section titled, “Readability” shows the most revealing information regarding the document.

Passive Sentences

This percentage can be extremely useful if a percentage other than 0% appears, the writer may have some editing to do. Generally speaking, passive voice is not the best way to word your thoughts. Here’s the difference: Active voice: I am typing a document. Passive voice: The document is being typed by me.

There are times when passive voice is acceptable, especially in jargon writing, such as certain science experiments and science writing. For most writing, though, use active voice.

Flesch Reading Ease

Wikipedia explains the Flesch Reading Ease nicely here:

In other words, the higher the number, the easier the work is to understand. If you are composing a document that needs to be read by only your doctoral program, then your score should be lower, closer to 0. On the other hand, if you are preparing a children’s book for 5th graders, then the score should be around 80. Advanced readers continue to enjoy reading when they are challenged, so use the Flesch Reading Ease to your advantage.

Flesch-Kincaide Grade Level

On many schoolchildren’s books, there are numbers and letters on the back of the book. It may look like this: RL8. This means that the book the child is reading is at a Reading Level 8, or, it is written for students that are reading at an 8th grade level. At QubComm, we use this feature often. We adhere to using plain language in all work we do for major corporations, just as the government, financial institutions, and many other businesses are doing. The reading level must fit the audience. The general population reads comfortably at a sixth grade reading level or a “6″ on the Flesch-Kincaide Grade Level.

Whether typing a rough draft for a school report or writing an important insurance document, the Readability Statistics in Microsoft Word can be insightful and worthwhile when finishing your draft.

Josh Noel

Use active voice in your writing

 :: Posted by Ambre on 06-14-2012

Passive vs. Active Writing

I see quite a bit of passive writing in my editorial life and I will change it to active voice every time. Even though passive writing may be grammatically correct, it can create more questions than it answers and comes across as unprofessional.

Passive writing is:


You are being sent this letter to advise you that your account has been suspended due to funds being overdrawn. Once a deposit is made, and a positive balance restored, the suspension will be lifted and the account will be active.

This sounds like the writer is afraid to admit that he’s the one who took the action or that he’s avoiding conflict with the recipient of the news.  It does not sound authoritative.


A claim occurs whenever a preauthorization as required by the plan, a referral from a participating provider as required by the plan or a request for payment for services or treatment is received.  Claim forms are generally not required.  However, if a bill is generated for covered benefits, the bill must be forwarded promptly.  The Member identification number must be clearly marked.

Can you tell who is the audience in this passage?  Is the reader an insurance underwriter? A patient? The doctor?


The Stop button must be pushed before the box can be placed on the conveyor belt. The override key should be utilized if the box weighs more than twenty-five pounds.

Passive instructions leave all parties wondering whose job it is to do what – especially in procedures that involve more than one person.

Although not the only method, you can usually spot a passive sentence simply by the presence of a form of “be” (be, being, been.)  Generally, if an inanimate object is doing the action, then it’s a passive sentence:

  • Account has been suspended
  • Funds have been overdrawn
  • Claim forms are not required
  • Bill can be sent
  • Button must be pushed.

On the other hand, if you specify who performs each action, your sentences become active:

  • We have suspended you account
  • You have overdrawn your funds
  • We do not require claim forms
  • You can send the bill
  • The machinist must push the button.

Look over your own writing to see how you’re doing.  If you find passive sentences, try rewriting them to see how much clearer you can make the message.

Author: Jeanette Juryea