How to Stop Shoplifters (and other notes on writing)

shoplifters 2

How many times have you walked into a shop and seen this sign:

Shoplifters will be prosecuted.

Really? By whom? Invisible lawyers, hiding in the walls? No wonder shoplifters ignore these warnings.

What if every retail store put up a sign that said:

Our manager is really scary biker dude, and if we catch you shoplifting, he will make you suffer. 

Would-be shoplifters might take another moment to consider a sign like that.

These examples demonstrate the difference between the passive and active voice. In first example, shoplifters will be prosecuted, but the sign doesn’t tell us who will do the prosecuting. That’s the problem with the passive voice.

Why is the passive voice so pervasive in business? Because organizations resist assigning responsibility.

Think about it. When you write in the active voice, you have a subject and a verb – someone doing something. The manager will make you suffer. It has a certain agency to it. There’s a main character to this story.

But when you write that same sentence in the passive voice, the subject isn’t doing anything – something is being done to it. All agency disappears. The main character is lost. Now events are just happening, and no one is responsible for them.

Instead of hiding behind the passive voice, be responsible for your actions. Tell us who you are, and what you plan to do.

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