Should passive voice be used or banned?

I submitted an article to a magazine, and the editing came back with this awkward passive voice construction: ” Shopping bags are just one type of plastic film used regularly by Americans.” Ouch.

Someone submitted an article to me that had one particularly awkward paragraph with too many sentences in passive voice. I have trimmed it to bare bones, but it contained all these passives:

It is not forbidden to want to look beautiful, but living an ethical lifestyle is encouraged. Buying clothes is permitted, but you shouldn’t buy clothes you don’t need from a retailer known to oppress its workers.

And I finally had my camera with me when I saw the sign ubiquitous in North Carolina restaurants. It has always made me wonder: if I were an employee there, how am I supposed to get my hands washed? Whom should I get to wash them?

So I thought it would be fun to write a post about avoiding passive voice. Upon further investigation, I can’t do that. Too many other authors over more than a century have devoted really bad writing to that task.  Continue reading

To be or not to be? Use it as little as possible

Hamlet wondered whether to keep living or kill himself. Writers ought to wonder whether the sentence they’re writing needs some form of to be. It would probably be better with some other verb.

Take a look at the first paragraph of an article someone submitted to one of my other blogs:

Healthy, sustainable living might not be a new concept, but it is now shifting the face of the residential realm. Sustainable design is not just some fad, but a solution to some of the most sinister challenges that we face as a global society. The good news is that the green ecosystem is growing ever larger in the heart of our concrete jungles. When superior knowledge and technology meets the care for the environment and human well-being, great things are bound to happen.

Doesn’t that make you eager to read on? No?

Amazingly, it contains hardly any finite verbs except “is” and “are.” It has a couple of present participles. “We face” appears in a relative clause and “meets” in a dependent clause, where the plural form belongs, by the way.

The author also chose a couple of stilted noun phrases and relies on adjectives and colorful imagery. for impact. At least she didn’t load it with passive voice. The best way to fix this paragraph is to make something happen with strong verbs. Continue reading

What’s a library without books? Some bookless libraries

empty bookshelves. library without booksI read about a library without books sometime in the late 1990s, I don’t remember what college or university in New York  had no room in its library for a computer lab.

So it opened one in another nearby building it owned and called it a branch library.

Why?

Because it was staffed with librarians.

In principle, it’s not the presence of a book collection that defines a library. A library simply requires librarians.

In recent years, however, libraries have experimented with bookless libraries based on digital technology. That is, they have books, just not printed books.

How is that likely to work out?  I’m not much impressed by what I’ve read. Continue reading

What do you know about your librarian, really?

library action figures. what librarians do

Library action figure with real shushing motion. Modeled on a respected librarian with a good sense of humor!

Librarians have a different reputation than they used to. Is it any better? Let’s see.

Do you remember, in It’s a Wonderful Life, what would have become of George Bailey’s wife if he had never existed?

Clarence the angel shows him she would never have married. She would have become an old maid. A librarian.

What about The Music Man? When we first meet Marian the Librarian, she has no friends.

And why should she? She’s full of book learning. She considers herself superior to townspeople who don’t come to the library. And she’s not very nice to people who don’t behave properly in the library when they do.

Ah yes. The stuffy spinster with a bun telling everyone to be quiet. That’s not the image anymore. Continue reading

Healthfinder.gov: Government websites you should know

healthfinder.gov screen shotHave you ever looked for health-related information on the web? Most people do, either for their own health or for someone they love.

Government information often does not appear on the first page of search results.

Therefore, few people think of it or know where to look for it. Healthfinder.gov is an award-winning site for the general public dedicated to prevention and wellness. Continue reading