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The active voice is often better than the passive voice because it is direct. This makes it easier to understand and unambiguous.

With the active voice a subject does something to an object: Andy kicked the ball.

In the passive voice the object is acted on by the subject: The ball was kicked by Andy.

An active voice makes for tighter writing and easier reading. It is more personal and less formal.

Efficient writing

The passive sentence used six words while the active sentence needed only four. It also has simpler grammar. Active sentences are economic and clear.

Active voice phrases are easier to understand because they involve fewer stages. Think of it as fewer mental hoops to jump through. This becomes important in more complex sentences and longer pieces of text.

While active voice sentences are also easier to write, you might not always find this in practice. The good news is that writing active sentences helps organise your own thoughts. That way you’ll write clearer.

Confident words

Sentences written in the active voice read as if the writer is confident about the facts. In contrast, phrases and sentences written in the passive voice seem tentative or uncertain.

Bureaucrats and corporate managers often like hiding behind the passive voice’s ambiguities.

For example, in the phrase; “the claims have been analysed”, it isn’t clear who did the analysis. On the other hand; “We analysed the claims” is definite.

Things get worse when the writer resorts to using the word ‘it’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘we’:

In the sentence “It was decided no claims would be payable” the author is deliberately hiding behind the ‘it’ implying that authority comes from on high and not identifying the person who did the deciding.

There are times when you need to use the passive voice. We’ll look at them in another post.

1: Gmail

Getting a Gmail address was easy as I already had a number of existing accounts. I’ve decided to forward everything from everywhere to a single Gmail account and gradually stop using old email addresses.

If you don’t already have a Gmail account, just hop over to gmail.com and sign up – you’re late to the party so you won’t great choice of available names. This doesn’t matter as nobody has to see your Gmail address.

2: Domain name

Again this was straightforward, I chose a .co.nz name because New Zealand is a small country with an uncrowded domain name register which made it easy to get the domain name I wanted. It cost NZ$40 to own billbennett.co.nz, but New Zealand names are renewed annually which is a pain.

3: Host

My existing web host was good enough. There’s a minor technical problem which causes problems elsewhere, but the one I use isn’t expensive and the company is easy to deal with.

I pay NZ$130 a year for 100MB of storage and plenty of bandwidth. You don’t need much of either to handle an email account, so opt for the smallest possible hosting plan unless you aim to use the service for something else.

4: Set-up mail account

My host uses a program called Cpanel. It allows me to manage the site through a web browser. I opened Cpanel and clicked on the Mail icon. A list displayed with a number of options, I chose Add/ Remove/ Manage Accounts. From here I added the email account bill@billbennett.co.nz.

You need to set up a password and a quota at this point – which is an amount of storage space to set aside for email. I’m not planning to keep email on the server, but during the testing stage I set aside 2MB of storage. This was a good move, because I hit a minor snag.

5: Redirect

I struggled  finding out how to redirect email traffic from my host using Cpanel. That’s because I used the Email Domain Forwarding option. While this looks like the right tool – it isn’t.

I then tried, incorrectly, setting up forwarding from Cpanel’s built-in Horde web mail program. The correct tool to use at this point is cryptically listed in the Cpanel/Mail menu as Forwarders.

Here you need to click on Add Forwarder and then enter the new email address followed by the Gmail account where you plan to receive your mail.

6: Tell Gmail about your new account

I did this by logging on to Gmail, clicking the Settings link at the top right of the window and then on the Accounts tab. Here I added the new address, verified it, then made it the default.

It’s a good idea to test your new email address at this point. When I did this I had some problems with the redirecting and found my emails sitting in the Horde web mail inbox on the server at my host.

Now, my next job is to make sure the new address appears everywhere online. This will take some time to fix. I made a good start by Googling my old addresses, but there are hundreds of instances so it’s not going to happen overnight.

Good writing is direct, clear and precise. It is unambiguous.

As a writer your goal is to get thoughts, swiftly and accurately, to your reader.

The best way to do this is by putting as few barriers as possible between your message and your audience.

Forget what you learnt about writing in school

You may have impressed teachers and exam markers with your grasp of obscure long words and clever grammar: in the real world simple, straightforward language works best.

This applies to all types of writing.

Think of your readers

Not all your readers are native English speakers. Not all them are highly educated. It’s unlikely you’ll impress those who are both with fancy words and cleverness.

  • If you have something worth saying (or writing) prefer short words over long ones. Words with Anglo-Saxon roots are easier to understand than ones from a Latin background. They are also easier to spell.
  • Use the smallest number of words needed. Where possible keep sentences and paragraphs short. A paragraph should contain a single idea.
  • Avoid jargon and foreign words.
  • Try to write in the everyday speech of ordinary people, but don’t overdo the chattiness and avoid slang.
  • Most of the time the active voice is better than the passive voice.
  • Learn how to punctuate.

Newspapers teach journalists to write using the inverted pyramid.

While t isn’t always the best approach, the inverted pyramid has worked for news writing since the days reporters telegraphed dispatches to editors. Today it works for online writing.

The structure echoes the classic essay structure you were taught — or should have been taught — at school.

The basic format:

  • Introduction — say what the piece is about; answer questions like who, what, where and when. You can also explain why at this point, although that can wait until later.
  • Then — expand, amplify;
  • Keep doing this until you’ve told the whole story. Make the most important points first then add more and more detail in each additional paragraph.

Traditional newspaper editors cut a story from the bottom if it needs to fill a specific space on a printed page.

Inverted pyramid online

The inverted pyramid structure, with each paragraph being progressively less important, means editors can easily remove the least important information first.

A news story written using the inverted pyramid structure can be cut at the end of any paragraph, even the first paragraph, and still be a self-contained story.

Online this means search engines pay more attention to the most important words. This helps people find your writing faster. It means they can zero in on the story and information they are looking for. Those opening paragraphs also make neat summaries for listings and similar online uses.

If you write your copy tight enough, your opening sentence will show up as the text in a Google search. That will help draw in readers.

The most important information goes in the first paragraph and each extra paragraph carries progressively less weight. That’s where the inverted pyramid name comes from: the foundation sits at the top, the less important details are at the bottom.