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Principles

1. Understand who and why

2. Understand the text

3. Choose what to say

4. Slash everything else

5. Edit sentences

6. Put into logical order

7. Demolish walls of words

8. Use links in the right way

9. Rest it then test it

5. Edit sentences

Turn your writing into a conversation with your reader.

Let's start with an example:
A visa may not be granted until satisfactory evidence is submitted to show that the person will be able to proceed to the United States.

Talk to "you"

When we read, it's easier for us to find our place in the sentences if we find a 'you'.

Example written to 'you':
A visa may not be granted until satisfactory evidence is submitted to show that you will be able to proceed to the United States.

Be active

The passive voice conceals who does what. If you reveal who does what, you will make it easier to understand the sentence. And readers generally prefer active sentences.

Example that's active:
We will not grant a visa until you submit satisfactory evidence that you will be able to proceed to the United States.

If you can't write 'we' then say exactly who does what

Some organisations won't let you write as 'we' and 'us'. Don't hide behind passive voice. Spell out who does what.

Example that says who does what:
The embassy will not grant a visa until you submit satisfactory evidence that you will be able to proceed to the United States.

Use familiar words in familiar ways

Let's try a different example: "required fields". If you design web forms, that probably means "questions on the page". If you're a farmer, you may struggle to know how 'required' fits with a place where sheep graze.

 


Tip: Try active voice first

Sometimes you deliberately want to conceal the 'actor' in a sentence, or the actor is unimportant. If so, you can put the sentence back into the passive voice. But try putting it in the active voice first so that you are sure the passive is definitely better.


Where to find out more

Ginny Redish's book

chapter 10: Tuning up your sentences

If you're not sure about actives and passives, then try Purdue University's explanation of active and passive voice.