How to Write With Authority Part One: Active Voice

We all experience impostor syndrome sometimes – no matter how long we’ve been in our field. Regardless of our level of experience, there’s no getting around the fact that we don’t, and can’t, know everything at any one time. At the same time, confidence is key to convincing readers you really are an expert in your field.

Learning how to write with authority and confidence earns your potential customer’s trust and shows that you know – or at least think you know – what you’re talking about. You’ll win no friends by being wishy-washy, and assertiveness is half the battle in earning a new client.

But what if you don’t actually feel confident? Well, you take an old adage to heart: you need to fake it till you make it.

Attracting Confidence

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll walk you through five key components of learning how to write with authority in content marketing. Before moving forward, here’s some advice: More than anything else, you need to pick a position and stick with it. Nothing erodes faith in your writing faster than inconsistency. This is why it’s so important to fake it till you make it – qualifiers are the death of authority, so no being wishy-washy when it’s time to write. If you’re not sure of your own expertise, then pick a stance and write to that without hesitation. This doesn’t mean deception or pulling information out of thin air; it’s about believing what you write.

One of the best ways to be assertive in content is today’s subject: the active voice.

What Is the Active Voice?

You may recall middle or high school English class. The long grammar lessons, identifying sentence structures out of a workbook, and so forth. If you do, you may have vague memories of something called the “passive” voice – and more specifically, how to remove it. The active voice is in contrast to the passive voice, and together compose the two main voices of the English language.

In the interest of time, we’ll spare you the composition lesson in favor of a short rundown. The basic structure of active voice is: Subject – Verb – Object, in contrast with passive voice: Object – Verb – Subject. Oftentimes, passive voice makes use of an auxiliary verb, especially the gerund (the –ing form of a verb).

An example of active voice would be: “Gerald wrote the report.” with the passive version, “The report was written by Gerald.”

See the difference? First, you’ll notice the longer word count on passive voice sentences. From a tonal perspective, it’s easy to see why the passive voice is so maligned by English teachers and college professors – it’s a weaker sentence structure. While it’s not to say that passive voice has no place in language, the fact that it weakens your tone reveals why content marketing avoids it like the plague. Best practice is to always use active voice, or at the very least – when it’s time to make your most important points.

Why Is Active Voice Important?

Active voice reads like a command. It imbues writing with a sense of urgency and forward movement that passive voice lacks. Most marketing materials aren’t highly technical, detail-oriented research essays. You know what your product does, and you need to convey that to your audience. Don’t beat around the bush, tell them!

For the content marketer, the goal should be to focus on the benefits a product or service offers. To illustrate this point, consider the following example:

“Accounting services are offered by Johnson & Freeman CPA.”

Versus:

“Johnson & Freeman CPA offers accounting services.”

In the first, passive sentence, the focus is placed firmly on the ‘features’ or services rendered, as opposed to who provides them. The latter sentence, on the other hand, emphasizes the who, not the what. Active voice clearly wins out when it comes to identifying the brand. You need your potential customers to know who you are first, as that is what sticks in their minds when they finish reading. Always focus on the benefits, and don’t be afraid to tout them loudly.

Your goal in content writing is to engage your readers. Writing a long, wordy, wishy-washy mess is the best way to lose readers, not gain them. Let’s face it – most of what we write is actually pretty boring to most people. The “corporate tone” of voice – wordy, complicated, and filled with technical terminology, won’t win you a lifelong reader. It also lowers your readability score, further decreasing your chances of conversion.

Marketing experts write that most content writers are afraid of simplicity – we don’t want to make a simple, blunt statement. Passive voice offers a wordy, usually more detailed, explanation. But in the short-form world of content marketing, there’s no room for wordy, weak sentences.

Consider the impact a short and simple sentence has: in a few words you make your assertion, and leave it at that. Simplicity exudes confidence in a way that complexity cannot.

What Can I Do?

Passive voice is easy to write. It reflects how many of us speak, and is how many of us already tend to write. That’s why cutting out the passive voice can be so challenging. You need to approach your copy with a new attitude, and dedicated vigilance. This isn’t always easy, though, and passive voice tends to sneak up on you.

Watch your subject – object relationship as you write. As a reminder, the subject does an action, while the object receives the action. Active voice follows the subject first format, while passive voice reverses the order. It’s easier to lose your verbs in longer sentences, so keep a mental note of your subject when you write.

The easiest way to fix passive voice is editing. While it can be tedious, you need to do it anyway, so add voice to your list of editing criteria. Especially in longer sentences, keep track of what your point actually is, so you don’t lose sight of subject and object. We naturally write certain words to form the passive voice, so keep an eye out for –ing verbs, was, is, and will be.

Remember that passive voice is useful in certain contexts, but also that most writers tend to overuse it. When it comes to content marketing, remember to keep your eye on the benefit and emphasize what your customer most needs to read.

 

 

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Cody Michaels

Cody Michaels is part-time writer, full-time nerd. Receiving his degree in history from the University of South Florida, most of his time is spent on the computer -- writing, researching, or reading.

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