The Write Way

July 2005
A Monthly Newsletter for Better Business Writing, brought to you by Write On Time
Professional Creative Services

In This Issue:
  • Pump Up Sales Using Active Voice
  • The Grammar Hammer - It's the Apostrophe, Stupid (Vol. 1)
  • Shameless Self-Promotion

Pump Up Sales Using Positive Voice

One of the points writing instructors try to drive home with students is to use the active voice whenever possible. That's because, especially in journalism, people want to know who did what to whom, not who had what done to them . The words read faster and the information is transmitted more effectively because it doesn't require the reader to think backwards.

The same applies to business writing. Look at these two examples:

  1. CorpoTech Inc. recently received the Outstanding Corporate Monolith of the Month award from the Global Awarding Authority based in Shaboygin, Mich. The award is one of many CorpoTech has received this year.
  2. CorpoTech Inc. added to the numerous honors it has already received this year with the Outstanding Corporate Monolith of the Month award, presented recently by the Global Awarding Authority, based in Shaboygin, Mich.

The difference is subtle but important. Rather than being acted upon, as in example 1, the company appears to be the active character in example 2. Both paragraphs say exactly the same thing, but the active voice in 2 makes the company seem more in control of its destiny. CorpoTech wasn't just sitting back receiving awards (passive), it was going out and adding to all those it already has (active).

The same rule can be applied to sales copy. Instead of saying:

Let one of our friendly associates talk to you today about your needs and how we can help you.
you can say:
Our friendly associates are eager to discuss your needs and how we can help you. Come visit one of them today.
In the first example, you're asking permission (passive). In the second, you're making a (thinly veiled) command (active). It sounds friendlier, yet prompts your customers to more decisive action.

The Grammar Hammer - It's the Apostrophe, Stupid (Vol. 1)

The apostrophe is one of the enigmas of the English language. Its uses are both to create contractions (two words put together to form another) or to indicate possession. As with many parts of English, though, the rules are not consistent. Many in business writing confuse the two, resulting in copy that is unintentionally hilarious. Unfortunately, unless you're a stand-up comedian, hilarious doesn't boost sales.

One of the most common mistakes is with the words its and it's . Despite what a lot of folks think, these two words are not interchangeable. A simple rule to remember is that its is the possessive form and it's is a contraction of it is . This makes a lot of people's brains hurt, but it's correct.

Here's how the two should be used correctly:

Bob kicked the lawnmower. Its engine had sputtered and turned off again. "I guess it's a good day to be a blade of grass," he said.
If you're unsure about a use of its or it's in business copy, just ask yourself if the form is possessive (its) or a contraction of it is (it's) and apply the appropriate use. Your copy will read better and the brain ache will eventually subside.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Check out the June issue of Main Line Today magazine for the latest story by contributing writer and Write On Time head-honcho Scott Pruden.

This month's issue features the story of how the shooting of a convenience store robbery suspect by the Lower Merion Police Department prompted a white Main Line minister to fight for more racial justice in the wealthy township.

Also, don't forget to pick up your free copy of Metro Philadelphia, available at all SEPTA stations and around metropolitan Philadelphia, to see Scott's semi-regular opinion columns.

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