What is active style writing and why should you use it for nearly everything?

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Answered by: Rhianna, An Expert in the How to Write Well Category
One of the best things you can do to make your writing more engaging is use active style writing. As the name suggests, writing actively puts more action in your sentences by reordering phrases, cutting out fluff and using words with motion. Here are three tips that will help you grab your readers' attention and keep it until the end with active style writing :



1. Choose the active-style sentence over the passive-style sentence.

You might remember hearing about these in junior high. An active sentence is "Bill threw the ball." "Bill" is the subject, "threw" is the verb, and "the ball" is the object. This is called an active verb because the subject is actively doing something. A passive sentence is "The ball was thrown by Bill." Now the subject, which is "the ball," is not actively doing anything; it is the receiver of the action.

When a reader pictures the first sentence, her mind's eye first sees Bill, then perhaps his arm swinging, his hand releasing, then the ball flying through the air. In the second sentence, the reader first sees the ball, and then it is moving from a point through the air, and then Bill is identified as the person who threw it.



Both sentences are grammatically sound, but the first one clearly has more action, is shorter, and has no potential for confusion. Whether you are putting together a resume, writing a novel or working on a press release, switching from passive to active sentence structure instantly trims fat and fluff and increases potential reader interest.

2. Swap out motionless words and choose action words.

Speaking of trimming fat, these little function words and verbs surprisingly tend to weigh you down. When using active style writing, think "to do" instead of "to be." All of the "to be" verbs (be, is, am, are, was, were) should be trimmed if possible. For example, "I manage a restaurant" shows more confidence than "I am a restaurant manager."

You also can paint a clearer, more interesting picture by showing actions instead of describing someone or something's state. "She was exhausted" doesn't pack as much punch as "She collapsed on the couch." If you are feeling particularly creative, instead of saying "this tree has long, gnarly branches," say "the tree's branches reach, bunch and twist from old age." Yes, even motionless objects can be written with motion verbs. Don't just describe, demonstrate!

3. Well-placed adjectives are your friends.

Don't think you have to throw all descriptions out the window -- just move them. Imagine you really need to be sure the world to knows that the woman collapsed on the couch because she was exhausted and not because was hit by Bill's ball. Instead of "she was exhausted and collapsed on the couch" or "she collapsed on the couch because she was exhausted," put the adjective right next to the noun: "The exhausted woman collapsed on the couch." Or let it stand alone as an adverbial phrase: "Exhausted, she collapsed on the couch." Each of these sentences contains the same meaning, yet the last two are most pleasing to read because they get to the point in a shorter time.

When reviewing the rough draft of your essay, story, or anything else, ask yourself "Is this an active sentence?" "Is my verb doing anything?" and "Can I make this sentence shorter without losing meaning?" Unless you are scrambling to meet a minimum word count, long, clunky sentences work against you. Newspaper editors love active style writing not only for the stories, which need such writing to keep readers' attention, but also for short and yet gripping headlines. "Driver heading home killed by oncoming train" is so much more clunky and confusing than "Train kills home-bound driver." However, active style writing is useful for nearly every medium because readers love action!

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