Use more active verbs and fewer passive ones to boost directory submissions.

Greater use of the active tense will make your entries easier to read and help them stand out from the pack.

Active and passive are two distinct grammatical voices, but neither is better than the other, they are just suited to different types of writing.

In the active voice, the subject performs an action:

“The attorney represented the company before the court”

In the passive voice, the sentence gets flipped:

“The company was being represented in court by an attorney”

A directory submission, which is designed to make an impact, and grab the reader’s attention, is an ideal place to use active verbs.

I first realized the importance of active/passive when I worked at Chambers & Partners a number of years ago.

At the time (this may still be the case), the company employed a small team of sub-editors/proof readers, who would check work written by researchers and editors to see that it conformed to style guidelines.

One of the things that team did was encourage the company’s writers to use active sentences as it made the published work more readable.

I took those lessons into my law firm and freelance roles.

Often when I edit submissions, I look for ways to bring the words to life, and replacing passive sentences with active ones is a way to achieve this.

Here’s an example of a passive sentence in a submission matter entry I worked on recently:

“Financing is expected to be provided by a combination of international banks, and potentially multilateral financial institutions”

There’s nothing wrong with this sentence; it’s grammatically correct and makes sense.

But a whole submission written in this style is not as lively to read.

When I edited that sentence, I replace the passive with the active:

“A combination of international banks, and potentially multilateral financial institutions, will finance the project”

Online news sites, blog posts, and advertising messages typically use active sentences.

Shorter. To the point.

More “active”.

But flexibility is key.

Use the active tense where possible, but remember that sometimes you can’t turn passive sentences into active ones.

And the subtler tone of passive speech is more suitable for certain types of formal writing.

Here are two good books (I’m sure there are many others) that have helped me sharpen up my writing over the years.

Both feature lots of examples of how to spot and edit passive/active sentences.

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing (Bonnie Trenga)

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Patricia T O’Conner)