Passive verb hides logic bomb, lazy writer

Thank you for visiting by business writing blog.

Here’s a logic bomb popular among bureaucrats, business writers and, sadly, journalists. (I’ve highlighted subjects in blue and verbs in red.)

‘The email was sent last April, and it is not known if the policy is still current.’

Logically, someone knows if the policy is still current, just not the writer. If you must report on something of which you have no knowledge, both honour and clarity insist that you confess your ignorance. Here’s the logically-correct sentence:

The email was sent last April, but I don’t know if the policy is still current.

Then again, industry often banishes ignorance. A few phone calls, emails or web searches might allow the writer to publish this:

The email was sent last April, but the policy is still current.

Which, frankly, is another and even better reason to avoid the passive voice of ‘to know’. When you force yourself to write ‘I don’t know… ‘ , you encourage yourself to find out.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Another frequent abuse is to follow an introductory ‘as’ phrase with the wrong word. (Subjects in blue, verbs in red, other key words in purple.)

As the P&C president of a large primary school, it is disappointing to see ructions at the federal level.’

Introductory phrases apply to the noun or pronoun immediately following, in this case the pronoun ‘it’, which is the subject of the sentence. But logically, ‘it’ cannot be the president of a Parents and Citizens Association (‘P&C’). The fix is simple; make the subject the noun to which the introductory phrase applies, like this:

As the P&C president of a large primary school, I am disappointed to see ructions at the federal level.’

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Both of these writers suffered from I-phobia. This is an irrational fear of the first-person pronoun. They were afraid to be the star of their own show.

In the first example the fear may be justified because admitting first-person ignorance could reveal first-person sloth. But in the second example, there is no editorial, social or economic reason for the writer to hide behind the third-person pronoun. Especially when doing so explodes a logic bomb in the reader’s face.

Advertisements

About Copymentor

Australian and US copywriter, creative director and author
This entry was posted in Business and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s