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How to Minimize Stress

Be considerate of your website visitors through your writing style

Woman holding head due to stress

Meditation, Yoga, exercise, blah, blah, blah. No. The answer is writing in the active instead of the passive voice. Using the active voice in website writing is much easier to read and comprehend, therefore making the reader’s experience more relaxing and yes, less stressful. If we can be a part of helping others to feel less stress, why wouldn’t we? When we talk in person, we almost always use the active voice; but when we write, for some reason, we revert to the passive voice. Maybe we think it’s more proper or it makes us feel like we’re a better writer, using more “formal” language. Or maybe we like the way it creates an aloof, a not-completely-responsible-for-what-is-written way out. Whatever the reason, the experts agree there are several reasons to write actively rather than passively, but these are the simplest reasons:

  • It's clear.
  • It's direct.
  • It takes the stress out of reading
box of donuts

Who Ate the Donuts

I loved the story by Brian Berkenstock with the Center for Plain Language in which he tells about taking his two daughters to the donut shop. Once a month, they buy a dozen doughnuts, take them home to eat one as they watch a movie together, and go to bed. And the girls know that when they get up in the morning, their donuts will be there waiting for them to enjoy. So, one morning, the girls got up, looked into the box, and found only seven donuts instead of the nine they knew should have been there. They took a good, hard look at their dad, knowing exactly what he had done, when that smart dad peered into the box and said, “Hmm. It appears someone has eaten some of the donuts.” 

The girls looked back at him with an instant, stunned look of confusion as if to say, “What did he say?” until one of them put her hands on her hips and said, “You ate the donuts!” 

The dad’s passive remark had created a second of confusion in which the daughters had to quickly make sense of what was going on, and the daughter then clarified the situation with her direct, active statement. “You. Ate.” Simple, clear, no question, no confusion.

That story illustrates exactly what writing in the passive or active voice does to all readers. If passive, readers must internally and quickly interpret the words they encounter as they try to instantaneously make sense of the information. It creates a bit of interior stress that can be completely avoided by simply using the active voice. The active voice creates a straight-forward, even relaxing experience.

100% Active Voice?

You can relax too. I don’t mean to stress you out about always needing to use the active voice, no matter what, 100% of the time. There are occasions in which you may want to (or need to) use the passive voice. But it’s probably not as often as you may think. The following are examples of when you may need to use the passive rather than the active voice:

  • When you can't or don't want to identify the subject
  • "The school was founded in 1950."
  • "The office was broken into last night."
  • To create an authoritative tone
  • "Visitors are not allowed."
  • To be tactful/noncommittal
  • "The meaning was somehow misinterpreted."

But remember, most of the time, you want to create a friendly, comfortable experience, and writing with the active voice is an important tool to accomplishing that. Save the passive voice for your handbooks, and create a relaxing, welcoming tone with the active voice on your website. All respected writers emphasize the importance of using the active voice. Grammarly says, “A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of your sentences in the active voice, unless you truly can’t write your sentence in any other way.”

your voice matters - use active voice

Choose the Active Voice Whenever Possible

Sentences written in the active voice flow better and are easier to understand. It places the emphasis on the subject of the sentence (what we can or can’t do for you) and makes the sentence more straightforward and concise. 

Examples

The following are examples of passive voice content our clients sent us for their website pages. They can sometimes (often) sound a bit stern (okay, cranky) and even a bit convoluted, so at School Webmasters, our experts make sense of the madness and convert them to friendly, much-more-understandable, active sentences.

  1. The client's passive voice:
    "Students are expected to read over 40 books and meet to read and discuss the literature every other week in preparation for a competition held twice a year at a neighboring school.”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Our students read over 40 books during the school year and meet every other week to discuss the literature in preparation for a biannual competition with neighboring schools.”
  2. The client’s passive voice:
    “Our students will be enabled to use their G-Suite accounts to complete assignments.”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Our students will use their G-Suite accounts to complete assignments.”
  3. The client’s passive voice:
    “For those with digital capability, parents/guardians are encouraged to have students access the exceptional education learning resources…”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Parents/Guardians, if you have the digital capability, please let your child access the exceptional educational learning resources...”

Have I Convinced You Yet?

So, two things I hope I’ve brought to your mind with this article: First, I hope I’ve convinced you that we can help decrease some of the stress and confusion in the world simply by writing in the active rather than the passive voice. Writing in the active voice creates a friendly, clear, transparent, easy-to-read, website that is inviting and comfortable to read. So, why wouldn’t we? And second, eat more donuts!

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