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Monday, September 10, 2007

Get Active With Your Copywriting

When writing copy for any media, it's always important to write in the active voice - not the passive.

Active sentences give your copywriting spark and drive, energising your sales message with words that enliven the reader and encourage them to act. Indeed, just employing this one technique in your copywriting could make the difference between securing a sale and losing one.

If you use passive sentences in your copywriting, they often appear awkward and flat, and you run the risk of your message being boring. Just think about it, you wouldn't buy from a boring salesperson, so why should you feel compelled to act upon limp and uninteresting copywriting?

So how do we actually write active sentences? Firstly, it's important to understand how each type of sentence works. Let's start with the active sentence.

Active Sentences

In an active sentence, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb. In other words, the subject 'acts' - and this gives the sentence its drive and spark.

Here's an example:

The dog bit the man

In this sentence, 'the dog' is the subject of the sentence, and the man is the object - with the verb in the middle driving the dog's action.

Here's another example, can you pick out the relevant parts of the sentence as discussed above?

The princess kissed the frog

The verbs in active sentences can take on a number of tenses, these are:

- Simple Present, eg - I like sport

- Present Progressive, eg - I am playing football now

- Simple Past, eg - We visited the park yesterday

- Past Progressive, eg - They were running for three hours

- Future, eg - I'll get up late tomorrow

- Present Perfect, eg - He has lived here for twenty years

- Present Perfect Progressive, eg - Mike has been walking for five hours, and he hasn't finished yet

- Past Perfect, eg - John said he'd gone to the cinema

- Future Perfect, eg - He won't have finished his work until 5 pm

Passive Sentences

When using the passive voice in a sentence, the subject is acted upon or receives the action expressed in the verb. For example, going back to our first sentence above:

The boy was bitten by the dog

Another example is:

The princess was kissed by the frog

In addition, the verbs in passive sentences take on the following tenses:

- Simple Present, eg - Cars are shipped to many foreign countries

- Present Progressive, eg - The food is being prepared

- Simple Past, eg - The parcel was delivered yesterday

- Past Progressive, eg - An announcement was being made

- Future, eg - The groceries will be picked up

- Present Perfect, eg - The arrangements have been made for us

- Past Perfect, eg - We've been given visas for six months

- Modals, eg - The TV can be used

- Subject/Object, eg - The woman was sent a package

- By, eg - They are often taken to the football by their friends

In most cases, your copywriting will be clearer and more direct if you choose to write active sentences. This is especially important when writing sales material, as you want the reader to act upon your words.

Try rewriting a piece of your copywriting using just the active voice, then compare it to the original - you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much more kick the second draft has.

Reference Sources

Purdue University Online Writing Lab

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