Home > Blogging, Communication, Humor, Work, Writing > Contracts: making me a crappier blogger since 2006!

Contracts: making me a crappier blogger since 2006!

Stop using passive voice!

Have you ever thought this while reading my blog? I sure have!

“The experience was one to be savored,” I might write, when the truth was savored the heck out of it. So why don’t I simply write, “I savored the experience”?

Easy: work. For roughly forty hours each week, I review, revise and write contracts full of worst case scenarios. These scenarios can make non-legal people extremely uncomfortable.

“But I don’t want to offer up my first-born child if this deal goes south!” such non-legal people might say if we lived in a fantasy world. In this one, “something comes up” and meetings are rescheduled they reschedule contract review meetings until rescheduling becomes riskier than just attending the damn meeting.

You know how people ask others not to shoot the messenger? The contract manager is routinely that endangered messenger.

kinda like me in this old ... masterpiece

kinda like me in this old … masterpiece

Why do you make me read these things? Why do you make me weigh risks like these? I would’ve gone to law school if I gave a damn about this stuff! I can see shouted business people shout at me with their eyes, often before breathing figurative fire upon me.

Enter passive voice. Passive voice enters the picture here.

The exact same risks exist as when using active voice, but they somehow sound less scary. Witness the below examples:

Messenger toast: You’re screwed. VS.
Confused stakeholder, safe(r) messenger: Undesirable outcome is virtually certain.

Messenger toast: We’re so done with you jerks. VS.
Confused stakeholder, safe(r) messenger: By this notice, Company hereby notifies Other Company of its intent to terminate the Agreement pursuant to the provisions of Section 4.1, 9.8, 13.6 and 104 thereof.

Messenger toast: Give us what we paid for or we’ll use the law (and possibly clowns) against you. VS.
Confused stakeholder, safe(r) messenger: Consequences for failure to timely provide the services and/or software hereby procured shall include (but not be limited to) all available legal and/or equitable remedies and, at Company’s sole discretion upon no fewer than three (3) days notice and during Other Company’s normal business hours, provision of custard and/or key lime pie(s) to Other Company’s executives’ faces.

And so, after forty hours a week intentionally phrasing potentially unhappy things in more passive, less direct ways, I’m stuck. The three hours a week I spent writing blogs can’t beat those forty-ish hours of passive voice out of me. Passive voice thus haunts me long after I leave the office each day.

While people generally like math even less than they like contracts, I must demonstrate this with some simple arithmetic:

40 > 3-4.

Still, trying is paramount I keep trying. I’ll keep trying, but let me forewarn you: You should expect slow progress until someone pays me to blog.

  1. nicciattfield
    August 7, 2015 at 6:07 am

    I had this too, with academic writing…started to say whatever it was in the most boring way, explaining that someone else had said it first. Like your writing though.

    • August 7, 2015 at 6:15 am

      My husband read this post last night and said it reminds him of academic writing. We talked, too, about how both probably began –in part–as a way to separate the educated from the less educated. (Blech!)

      There’s a movement within contracts that’s pushing toward human voice use, which I fully support. Contracts should be reference guides for the people who needed a product or service, not indecipherable junk requiring legal interpretive services!

  2. August 7, 2015 at 7:04 am

    People say… One could say… It has been asserted that….

    I had a professor in seminary who said the primary task of every writer is to learn to say “I.”
    He pointed out from time to time that “I” necessarily leads away from passive voice to active.
    You’ve made the point in your own way, beautifully.

    • August 7, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      That first line feels like my life! Heh.

      I absolutely agree with your seminary professor. With one exception, the strikethroughs above were instances of me actually writing passive sentences and catching myself. I’m sure I missed some, but there’s my thought process illuminated!

      (Perhaps the lesson in this is that I should write more comments?)

  3. August 7, 2015 at 7:18 am

    I am so glad you wrote this post. Rarely, if ever, I find people defending or at least explaining why they can’t help using the passive voice. I know it would make life easier for all of us, but as your examples point out, there is ease to be found in long-winded, formidable sentences. And some people just get used to expressing themselves this way. I don’t think if I made an effort to write mostly in the active voice, I’d sound like myself at all.
    I have to say though that a college professor of mine, right from the first year (I studied English literature) insisted I stop writing in the passive voice. While most academic writing is in the passive voice (and thus boring, unnecessarily long and often impenetrable), I’ve also found many well-expressed and competent essays in the active voice. It is possible!

    • August 7, 2015 at 6:58 pm

      I’d much rather speak and write plainly, but I find that’s harder to do the longer I spend working on contracts! I hope/believe my writing here on the blog helps me avoid a complete transition to passive voice. It benefits me there, but it can drive me nuts here.

      Sometimes I consider returning to school. Then I think about the writing aspect and decide against it for the time being. I loved writing essays when I studied (in contrast to a friend who took much harder classes to eliminate as much writing as she could from her studies), but don’t feel quite as fondly about the thought now. And yet, I do love a challenge! I’d love to take a more active voice in writing essays if I did return.

      • August 8, 2015 at 1:46 am

        It is a difficult balance for sure. I have many peers who juggle their “voices” between their academic writing and their social media “writing”. I am not as efficient, and I’ve often had to rewrite work in journalistic fields for being too formal and, conversely, in academic fields for being too casual. The former I understand, as you have to consider that the readership doesn’t only consist of people who have knowledge about that field, but anyone and everyone. At least, that’s what you hope. But, it irks me that academics continuously keeps excluding potential interest outside its field. My “casual” drafts don’t contain expletives, bad grammar or any modern terminology. But, because they don’t comply with how things are done, they have to be edited to sound more clever. There is such excellent, interesting research out there easily available, but because they seem to exist in a bubble, ordinary folks don’t even think about reading them.
        But, as I mentioned in the previous comment, I have read academic essays that are very readable. There must be some people who understand the value of clarity and readability, and so, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take up your studies again, writing essays exactly the way you want to!

  4. August 7, 2015 at 7:38 am

    I hear you on this one. Being accustomed to academic writing–which loves the passive voice–it took me a while to beat it. It still creeps into my blog posts from time to time. Probably more than I realize!

  5. August 7, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Beware the wrath of clowns!!

    • August 7, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      Indeed! I had a super creepy clown picture from an old neighbor’s front porch, but I couldn’t find it. Sadface? 😉

      • August 7, 2015 at 8:32 pm

        I doubt the sincerity of that sadface.

  6. August 7, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Love this post! I worked as a paralegal who wrote sentences like the ones you show above. Plus I got a Masters degree which hinged on my ability to express any simple concept using as many words passively as possible. I think that’s why I adore blogging, for me there’s nothing passive about it.

    • August 7, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      “hinged on my ability to express any simple concept using as many words passively as possible”
      I chuckled at this. So perfectly put!

      I love blogging for this reason as well. Trying to find ways to separate my at-work voice from my curled-up-on-my-couch-blogging voice. With time and patience, I’ll get closer!

  7. August 7, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Lol, I wrote an email to a VP at the school needing something quick, but forgot to turn off “work” and turn on “mom”‘and sent the email with way too many $10 words! He laughed at me in the reply 🙂

    • August 7, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Hee. This reminds me of a day I worked from home while D was sick. I went from answering emails to answering his questions … and realized I was talking to him like a colleague! :p

  8. August 7, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    I am guilty too.
    Without the excuse of constant re-inforcement at work.
    I am not certain whether it is part of wishing to remain in the background – or a lack of confidence in the validity of my feelings.
    Work in progress. Like so many things.

    • August 7, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Both of those explanations make sense to me. They also provide me a great opening to say, I appreciate the wisdom and compassion you imbue in your words. I have confidence in you from afar, and am grateful for you. ♥

  9. August 7, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I struggled with that too, when I moved from my master of science back into an English degree. I feel like I’ve been forgetting it all again, though.

  10. August 7, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Switching from passive to active was one of my biggest struggles while studying for my English degree *covers face* Drove my professors crazy.

  11. August 11, 2015 at 3:21 am

    I write and read Statements of Work where passive voice is the standard. I suspect this is why active voice is difficult for me as well. You have just shown me the why.

  1. February 3, 2016 at 4:12 am

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