Posts tagged: passive voice

Mar 13 2012

Writing Tips: Appropriate language

Different types of writing require different approaches. This includes using appropriate language for the type of writing we are doing.

I’m going to talk about three different types of language that you need to be careful of.

Colloquialisms do not belong in formal reports unless they are being used as direct quotes from people who were interviewed as part of the research process. In fact, if it’s at all possible to eliminate the direct quotations, do so. What is a colloquialism, you may ask? It’s a casual, often regional, saying, that is shorthand for something else. So, for example, we might say “‘most all” when we mean “almost all,” but the correct choice for a formal report would be “most” – since that’s what “almost all” is!

Person-First Language is not an evil thing, and you should try to use it when you can. However, try to do some research before you use a person-first phrase. For example, did you know that many autistic people dislike being called “people with autism”? If you are a proponent of person-first language and do not want to use a phrase like “autistic people,” remember that the word “autistic” is merely an adjective, like “tall,” “thin,” and “strong.” In addition, it is more respectful to use the preferred term than it is to insist on using a phrase that many people object to. In the specific case mentioned here, of course, a lot of parents prefer the person-first version, and so it is acceptable to alternate between the two terms, as long as the sentence still works grammatically.

Passive Voice is a given in formal reports and most business writing, because we are generally writing in the third person and not always about people. While passive voice is generally best avoided whenever possible, it is a necessary evil in these two forms. However, this doesn’t mean that you can ignore good sentence structure, verb tense, and other grammatical niceties! What is passive voice? It’s a style of writing that turns the object of the sentence into the subject. For example, a good active sentence might be “He drew a circle on the paper.” Written in passive voice, this sentence becomes “The circle on the paper was drawn by him.” I’m sure you can see how passive voice is often awkward and difficult to understand!

Remember: Formal documents require formal language, so writing the way you speak is probably a poor choice. Person-first language is a great idea, as long as you research and make sure that the people you are writing about prefer person-first language. If there is debate within the community on the subject (e.g., between parents and individuals), it is fine to interchange person-first language with more descriptive language. Try to avoid the passive voice whenever possible, but keep in mind the fact that it is often a necessity in formal documents like reports and other business writing. We may not like it, but we have to do it anyway!

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