Monday, August 10, 2015

Banging the drum for active voice

PR.com houses a wealth of executive-written news releases. If you're a CEO with a do-it-yourself gene, you'll find plenty of friends here. Their writing's not brilliant, but someone at PR.com appears to edit them.

The weakest element of the writing? Most rely on passive voice, or over-dependence on “to be” verb phrases. Unless you're auditioning for Hamlet, I'd excise any use of the "to be" verb phrase. A simple example:

By Stephan Czuratis (Jazz-face)
(Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Passive Voice:  “It was announced today that a new ergonomic drum stick is being launched by Chicken Percussion, Inc.”

Active Voice:  “Chicken Percussion today launched a new line of ergonomic drum sticks.”

A reliance on weak to-be verbs kills any energy in your news story. “It was announced…” and “is being launched” sounds as if everything’s after-the-fact. Remember, news releases should deliver news – and in today’s 24/7 news cycle, immediacy (or conveying a sense of immediacy) is essential.

Speaking of voices, I found a good example in a news release from Voicebrook, Inc. Consider two versions of the lead paragraph for a news release:



Original:

Lake Success, NY, August 06, 2015 --(PR.com)-- Voicebrook, Inc. is sponsoring Cerner’s 2015 Laboratory Learning Workshop. This two and a half day educational opportunity will be held at Cerner’s World Headquarters campus, in Kansas City, MO. The Workshop is being held on August 10th through the 12th. A Voicebrook representative will be available to answer questions and discuss seamless speech recognition reporting solutions for laboratories using Cerner’s Anatomic Pathology solutions.

Revised:

Kansas City, MO., August 6, 2015 --(PR.com)— An Aug. 10-12 Laboratory Learning Workshop exploring speech recognition reporting solutions for labs takes place here at Cerner’s World Headquarters campus in Kansas City. The workshop, sponsored by Voicebrook, Inc., will include a Voicebrook representative to answer questions and discuss seamless speech recognition reporting  for labs using Cerner’s Anatomic Pathology solutions.

The shift in tone makes a difference. Removing passive-voice phrases such as “is sponsoring,” “will be held,” and “will be available” focuses the reader's attention on what’s happening. Active verbs such as sponsored  help add a sense of immediacy to the release.

One minor quibble: use the location of the event – Kansas City, in this case – as your dateline, rather than the location of your company (Lake Success, NY). A business editor in KC scans for local datelines, and may skip a release that talks about a business from another state.


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