Why is so much business copy so dull?
Long sentences, jargon and clichés don’t help make it engaging. But it’s passive language which blights business writing.
Which of these sentences reads better to you?
“The brochure was drafted by the marketing department and was sent out by the fulfilment house.”
“The marketing department drafted the brochure and the fulfilment house sent it out.”
The first sentence uses the “passive voice”. The second the “active voice”. Businesses, especially big corporates, love passive language.
With the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward. The subject does the work and the verb moves the sentence along.
With the passive voice, the subject of the sentence doesn’t do anything. Some other “agent” or something unnamed does the work. The result is weak writing.
Perhaps this is why Corporates like passive so much. It masks responsibility for example:
- “Sorry but your cheque wasn’t processed on time by the accounts team,” sounds like buck passing.
- “Sorry the accounts team didn’t process your cheque on time,” is better.
- “Sorry we didn’t process your cheque on time,” admits responsibility and is the best of the lot.
So the one tip to make your business copy stand out is to get active. That’s all.
When I was a Marketing Director for a big corporate my policy was zero tolerance for passive language. People used to cringe when I wielded my red pen. But eventually passive became active. Copy went from tiresome to engaging. Dull to bright.
Here’s another example:
Passive: “There is a wealth of expertise shown by financial advisers when talking to their clients.”
Active: “Financial Advisers show a wealth of expertise when talking to their clients.”
And another example:
Passive: “The compliance computer based training must be completed each year by all members of staff”.
Active: “Each year, all members of staff must complete the compliance computer based training.”
You don’t have to seek out and cut all passive language. But in business copy, where most writing is passive, someone who takes time to get active will stand out from the pack.