Better Writing: Avoiding Passive Voice

It is a good idea for freelance writers to avoid passive voice. Writers should not think that using passive voice is a grammatical error, but using active voice makes for better writing most of the time.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice is the phrase used to describe sentences in which the subject receives the action of the verb rather than the subject performing the action. For example:

The man was slapped by the woman.

That same sentence written in active voice would read:

The woman slapped the man.

Another example of passive voice is in a sentence where there is no specific subject performing the action.

eg. Research was conducted.

What is wrong with writing in passive voice?

Writing in passive voice is considered a stylistic “don’t.” While it is not necessarily a grammatical error, passive voice can sound awkward, leave out important details, and reduce the authority of a sentence.

Consider the following.

How can I avoid writing in passive voice?


Better Writing: Write Less

I know. When I offer advice on how to write better, it usually includes writing more and not less. What I mean to say is write concisely. If you can write a good article, you should know how to write a powerful paragraph. When you limit your word count, it forces you to choose your words even more carefully. The art of being concise is to say as much as you can with as few words as possible.

Editing is a major factor in concise writing. You may have to go back three or four times before you are able to come up with just the right way to say a particular thing. It can be difficult to chop down your words to the bare bones, but it will make you a better writer.

Twitter is a great website for practicing concise writing.

Here are my tips for concise writing:

-make your point immediately

-don’t repeat the point

-avoid modifiers like really, very, totally

-use the dictionary and thesaurus to improve vocabulary

-replace long phrases with inclusive words

-avoid empty, general openings and closings

-cut, cut, cut

Do you have any concise writing tips? I’d love to see them. Share in comments.

Freelance Niche: Editing

Editing is an important part of the freelance writing career, or at least it should be. If you know grammar extremely well, and you have a knack for making other people’s writing better, you may want to consider focusing on editing in your career. Writers with an eye for detail (ie. perfectionists) can most certainly earn a great deal of money as an editor.

What Editing Entails

Some editing jobs are simple proofreading, while others require rewriting. An editor may need to adjust the grammar, spelling, and awkward sentence structure of a piece that was translated from another language or clarify the thoughts written by someone who has trouble writing well.

Web copyediting is important, as many people need to make sure that their website content is appropriate, error free, and professional. I have seen some editing projects that require the daily editing of batches of web articles written by different people.

In the editing niche, you may find some academic editing work, such as dissertations, essays, text books, speeches and more. In some cases, editors are required to have some background knowledge in the subject matter so that they can verify accuracy in text as well.

Business documents such as proposals, white papers, letters and similar pieces may require and editor’s eye as well. Reports may require industry knowledge or experience, which can allow an editor to charge a higher rate for their expertise.

People searching for jobs may also look for an editor to assist with their resume and cover letters.

It is common that writers who want to get published will hire an editor to perfect their work before it goes to print. Writers can truly benefit from having an editor available to assist with proofreading and developing ideas, and that is a good selling point you can use.

How much are editors paid?

Editors sometimes charge by the hour, making $30-$100 per hour. Some editors charge a few dollars per page, depending on the amount of work that has to be done and their level of experience. Proofreading would naturally pay less than rewriting or restructuring a work entirely.

Editing Tips

It is best to try to change as little as possible when editing. Preserving the voice of the author is vital, as is making sure that the intent and meaning of the words remains.

Take your time and pay close attention to detail. As an editor, it is your job to pick up on things that the average reader would not.

Look beyond the internet for editing and proofreading jobs. While there are some available online, they may not pay very well, and there is fierce competition for those projects. Local businesses, magazines, newspapers, and other writers may have a need for editing, so try to network offline as much as possible.

Build a strong portfolio. Every writer is also an editor to some degree, so as someone who specializes in editing, you need to exemplify excellent grammar and polished, error-free work. As you gain experience, you may want to consider presenting some “before and after work” so that potential clients can get a sense of your ability. You must be able to prove that you can write well because a good editor is also a great writer.

Do freelance writers need an editor?

Some freelance writers might need to hire an editor. I have stressed before that quality is important, and that proofreading and editing should be a part of what you do. At some point, your eyes might glaze over at the fact thought of looking over your work one more time. You may feel that it might be better to allow a new set of eyes to scan for typos, grammatical mistakes, cohesiveness, etc.

Should you hire an editor? That depends. If you are an efficient proofreader (and typist) and you have a tight budget, I would say that you might be better off without an editor. On the other hand, if you make frequent mistakes, have some extra cash flow, and don’t have time to look over every peice of work twice, you should consider hiring someone with an eye for detail and sharp grammatical skills.

If you oversee other writers, hiring an editor may be a good idea. I don’t have an editor, even though I do have writers that work for me. I choose not to have one because I prefer to look over the work myself before I submit it. My writers are also very good, so I don’t need to change much, if anything, when I look over their work. Down the road, if it gets to be too cumbersome, I probably will hire one.

So, what about you? Do you think you need an editor?

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