From Passive to Active: A Case Study

I am reading this book, Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale. It is a marvelous essay on how to write – fun to read, and educational. I just finished the chapter on verbs, and have learned more explicitly about the difference between passive and active voice. One big sign of passive is how often the verb to be and its conjugations (is, are, was, etc…) appear. Using static verbs displays less action, and creates a less enticing story – the reader is more apt to loose attention when more static verbs are read.

Dynamic verbs on the other hand, demand attention, and when spoken with the mind’s voice, grip the reader to the words as they are heard by the mind’s ear. By reducing the time between spoken and heard, dynamic verbs cleave a path through all distractions clamoring for the mind’s attention, and create an easy to follow path of thought that engages.

(Can you tell that the first paragraph contains passive voice, while active voice drives the second?)

Hale states that some writers dedicate an entire draft review to eliminating the passive, or static, verbs, and replacing with dynamic verbs. I looked at my introduction to Forman Consulting that was in my previous post – and found a high ratio of static to dynamic verbs. I rewrote it, eliminating all static verbs. I have displayed it below. I may have gone to far, and should maybe reintroduce some static verbs at key points, but I wanted to see how it came out. I can definitely feel the difference. I have also included my original first, so you can easily compare for yourself.

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Original, More Passive Voice Draft:

My mission is to drive penetration of technology products into customer organizations. Sales creates first impact with the customer, but that is only the beginning of the lifelong sales process. Once the sale is made, the product must be continually resold to drive product value further into the customer organization.

More customer stakeholders using more of the product is the goal. This will drive expanded sales and ingrain your product in the organizational business processes. The deeper the product is driven, the more the value is realized, and the harder the product is to remove.

A process has been defined to achieve this goal. The four basic steps of the process are:

  1. Identify Customer Stakeholders
  2. Determine Stakeholder Current State
  3. Educate on Product Capabilities
  4. Build Future State using Product

By following this methodology, you can get more of your customer stakeholders using more product and help them build better processes using your technology so that it would be detrimental to remove it.

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Active Voice Draft:

My mission: drive penetration of technology products into customer organizations. Sales create first impact with the customer, and that only begins the lifelong sales process. Once sold, the product must be continually resold to drive product value further into the customer organization.

You want more customer stakeholders using more of your product. This will drive expanded sales and ingrain your product in the organizational business processes. The deeper the product penetrates, the more value realization occurs, and the more detrimental to the customer to remove it.

I have defined processes to enable the product organization to lead customers to realize greater product value.

  1. Identify Customer Stakeholders
  2. Determine Stakeholder Current State
  3. Educate on Product Capabilities
  4. Build Future State using Product

Services offered range from leading Services organizations, consulting and training, and working with Executive and Sales teams to enable Services and Product sales through messaging, collateral creation, and process development.

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Thanks to my wife Toni, for leaving the book lying around so it could catch my eye, and for activating this post with her edits.

Thoughts?

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