Rewriting passive sentences – SEO copywriting training

By | August 17, 2019


In the previous video,
we explained what the passive voice is. We showed you some example sentences. We taught you that the difference
between active and passive sentences is not one of meaning,
but of perspective. Compare “I see my friend”
with “My friend is seen by me.” The first sentence is active (I am the one seeing,
and I am the subject of the sentence). The second sentence is passive (I am the one seeing, but my friend
is the subject of the sentence). Now, if you don’t write
a lot of passive sentences, you basically have no problem at all,
as we saw in the previous video. The problem with the passive voice is that
people tend to overuse it, even if a perfectly fine
active alternative is available. Passive sentences are harder to read,
and they’re wordy. That’s why, in this video, we’ll tell you how to make sure you strike a balance
between active and passive sentences. First, we’ll discuss what you can do
while writing your text, then we’ll discuss how to edit your text
and get rid of unnecessary passives. I’ll start with a deceptively simple tip,
aimed at those of you who don’t consider themselves naturals
when it comes to writing. It has to do with word order. Active English sentences generally adhere
to what we call the “SVO order”: the subject comes first, then the verb,
then the object. Like in this example: I (subject) was working
(verb) on a song (object) last night. And of course, most sentences have lots
of different kinds of words before, in between and after the S, V, and O, but if you maintain the SVO-structure,
you’re good to go. A simple way to achieve this
when writing your text? Start your sentences with the subject: the person or thing that performs
an action or is being described. Or at least have it be
one of the first three or four words. In this way, it becomes virtually impossible
to write a passive sentence. As an added bonus, sticking
to the SVO-order as much as possible will improve the readability of your text. But, and this is very important, you shouldn’t take this to mean that every
sentence should start with the subject. If you start every sentence with a subject,
your readers *will* fall asleep. You need to have some variation
in word order of your sentences to be able to engage readers. But if you’re using passive voice a lot and keep getting feedback
from our plugin for it, this simple trick can make a big difference. When it comes to writing your text,
there really isn’t anything else you can do besides being really aware of the fact that
you don’t want to use too much passive voice. Getting rid of unnecessary passive sentences
when editing your text, however, is a very manageable and important step
towards a readable text. By now, you should be able
to recognize passive sentences. It helps to look for *these* keywords
when scanning your text. If you’ve identified the passive sentences
in your text, it’s time to rewrite them. The easiest way to do this is by keeping
our cheat sheet close at hand. It features a four-step plan
we’ll discuss in detail right now. The first step is to identify
who or what is performing an action. The easiest way of doing this is by looking
at the main verb of your sentence and then simply asking the question:
who’s doing it? That’s a bit abstract,
so let’s consider an example. The woman was helped by the zookeeper. The main verb in this sentence is: “helped”. So: Who helped?
The zookeeper. Or, another example: the research was
supported by the funds of the government. The main verb is: “supported”. Who does the supporting?
The government. OK, so there’s your first step. The second step is to identify the person
or thing the action has an effect on. The easiest way of doing this is taking
the actor and the verb and asking: who/what did the actor do something to? In our examples:
who did the zookeeper help? The woman. What did the funds of the government
support? The research. The third step is taking those two
and switching them around. In the original sentence: the woman was
helped by the zookeeper, the zookeeper was at the end
of the sentence. The woman was at the start. Now, we switch that around. The zookeeper (and we’ll look at the middle
bit later) the woman. Of course, for more complex sentences, it’s not necessarily all the way
at the beginning or end of the sentence, but in those cases they often
just switch places anyway. For example: Because the crocodiles
were getting a bit nasty, the woman was helped by the zookeeper
as quickly as possible; the rest of the sentence stays intact
and you just switch those two around. Step four is to modify the verb and keep the same tense
(so present, past, future, etc.). This is the hardest part. However, that’s where the cheat sheet
we provided comes in. It tells you exactly what passive form
corresponds to what active form. So you basically just take a peek
and substitute the verb. So the woman was helped by the zookeeper
becomes the zookeeper helped the woman. And, more complex, the woman
will have been helped by the zookeeper becomes the zookeeper
will help the woman. Not that difficult. Of course, the examples we’ve discussed
are mostly simple ones. The more complex the sentence
you’re looking at, the more difficult it will be
to complete this four-step plan. Some sentences, we’ve seen
one example already, have subclauses, with several subjects,
verbs and objects within one sentence. But the same principles still apply. Just find the passive verb and the subject
and object it corresponds to. And if your sentence has a lot of words
that aren’t a subject, object, or verb, you just need to consider
where to put all those words to make sure that your sentence
makes sense. Which is easier than it sounds. And practice makes perfect! Therefore, we’ve prepared a lot of exercises
you can do to get to grips with the theory. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Rewriting passive sentences – SEO copywriting training

  1. Tom Gerber Post author

    Would be nice to have a link to this "cheat sheet"

    Reply

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