Active Writing

New York City Hall and a news conference in front of the steps.

Barbara Nevins Taylor

ACTIVE WRITING

Active writing allows you to say what you mean in a clear concise way with colorful verbs that paint a picture.

In 1946, the writer George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984,  complained about politicians and others who use fuzzy language to hide the truth.

George Orwell.png

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs,” Orwell wrote.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language set out six rules for clear writing.  “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a long word where a short one will do; If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; Never use the passive where you can use the active; Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.” – George Orwell

Here’s a recent of example of what Orwell talked about.

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.”

“The mischaracterizations and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not base on facts, and is not what I stand for.

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary.

How do we write a clear, direct sentence?

We make sure the subject does the action.

What does that mean?

Put the subject before the verb and the object.

Active sentence: Subject-Verb-Object

The verb determines action

Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defends President Trump’s discussion with Russian diplomats.

Not So Good

“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Good

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defended President Trump and denied he leaked classified information to the Russians.

Not So Good

Allegations that President Trump revealed classified information to the Russians were denied by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Passive Verbs Drag Down A Sentence

You create a passive verb when you make the subject the object of the action.

Passive Sentence

In the first inning, the three strikeouts were thrown by Mets pitcher Rick Porcello.

Active Sentence

Mets pitcher Rick Porcello threw three  strikeouts in the first inning.

Colorful verbs that tell a story and convey action create strong sentences.

Weak passive verbs make mushy sentences. You want to use action-filled verbs.

The verb to be does not convey action.

So we try avoid using: to be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been

EXAMPLES:

1.

Passive
The roads were destroyed by heavy rains.

Heavy rains were responsible for the destruction of the roads.

Active

Heavy rains destroyed the roads.

2.

Passive

The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

Active

The goalie swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

3.

Passive 

The three-pointer was shot  by the Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet in the game against the Boston Celtics.

Active 

The Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet shot the three-pointer in the game against the Boston Celtics.

4.

Passive

The legislation was sent to Congress by the president.

Active

The president sent the legislation to Congress.

or 

The president sent Congress the legislation.

5.

Passive

The earthquake in Puerto Rico caused victims to be airlifted by helicopter to the hospital.

Active

A helicopter airlifted victims of the earthquake in Puerto Rico and rushed them to the hospital.

or

A helicopter airlifted earthquake victims and rushed them to the hospital.

6.

Passive 

Carolina is responsible for monitoring and balancing the budgets for the journalists.

Carolina monitors and balances the budgets

or

Carolina monitors and balances budgets.

Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of an action, not the actor.

Example:

Many Long Beach residents were forced to leave the beautiful beach area to escape the hurricane.

Use strong, colorful verbs

Example:

Violate instead of in violation

Resisted instead of was resistant

Avoid Passive Phrases Like These:

Have been

Had been passive

GERUNDS

A gerund acts like a verb and a noun. You form a gerund by adding –ing to the end of a verb:

Examples:

run, running
play, playing

A gerund describes action or a state of being.
Grammarians consider gerunds a lovely way to write.

But in ACTIVE writing a gerund can slow down a sentence.

Examples:

1.

The Mets are feeling like losers at this point in the season.

Better

The Mets feel like losers at this point in the season.

2.

Fans are wondering if the Jets will be losing games all season.

Better

Fans wonder if the Jets will lose games all season.

3.

Nets players are surprising their new coach with their driving ambition.

Better

Nets players surprised their new coach with their drive and ambition.

4.

We sat up all night reading.

Better

We read all night.

or

We sat up and read all  night.

6.

I like to go jeeping in the woods.

Better

I live to ride my jeep in the woods.

But gerunds can work when you talk about continuous action.

Example:

You might tell someone:

We jumped over puddles last night.

But if it continued to rain:

We spent the week jumping over puddles because of the constant rain.

CLUNKY WORDS AND PHRASES

 Some words and phrases make sentences fuzzy. 

Currently
Due to
Prior to
In an effort to
For the purpose of
In order to
Is of the opinion that
Due to the fact that
In the near future
At this point in time
During my time
Subsequent
Affinity For
Am Willing

The English-Zone.com created this excellent chart.

PRESENT PERFECT, PAST PERFECT and FUTURE PERFECT
Passive form:
have/has been + past participle
had been + past participle
Active: Present Perfect
I have mailed the gift.
Jack has mailed the gifts.
Passive: Present Perfect
The gift has been mailed by me.
The gifts have been mailed by Jack.
Active: Past Perfect
Steven Spielberg had directed the movie.
Penny Marshall had directed those movies.
Passive: Past Perfect
The movie had been directed by Steven Spielberg.
The movies had been directed by Penny Marshall.
Active: Future Perfect
John will have finished the project next month.
They will have finished the projects before then.
Passive: Future Perfect
The project will have been finished by next month.
The projects will have been finished before then.
FUTURE TENSES
Passive forms: will + be + past participle
is/are going to be + past participle
Active: Future with WILL
I will mail the gift.
Jack will mail the gifts.
Passive: Future with WILL
The gift will be mailed by me.
The gifts will be mailed by Jack.
Active: Future with GOING TO
I am going to make the cake.
Sue is going to make two cakes.
Passive: Future with GOING TO
The cake is going to be made by me.
Two cakes are going to be made by Sue.
PRESENT / FUTURE MODALS
The passive form follows this pattern:
modal + be + past participle
Active: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Sharon will invite Tom to the party.
Sharon won’t invite Jeff to the party.
(Sharon will not invite Jeff to the party.)
Passive: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Tom will be invited to the party by Sharon.
Jeff won’t be invited to the party by Sharon.
(Jeff will not be invited to the party by Sharon.)
Active: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
Mai can foretell the future.
Terry can’t foretell the future.
(Terry can not foretell the future.)
Passive: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
The future can be foretold by Mai.
The future can’t be foretold by Terry.
(The future can not be foretold by Terry.)
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
Her company may give Katya a new office.
The lazy students may not do the homework.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Her company might give Katya a new office.
The lazy students might not do the homework.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may be given a new office by her company.
The homework may not be done by the lazy students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might be given a new office by her company.
The homework might not be done by the lazy students.
Active: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
Students should memorize English verbs.
Children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.
Passive: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
English verbs should be memorized  by students.
Cigarettes shouldn’t be smoked  by children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to learn English verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
English verbs ought to be memorized by students.
Active: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
Students had better practice English every day.
Children had better not drink whiskey.
Passive: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
English had better be practiced every day by students.
Whiskey had better not be drunk by children.
Active: MUST / MUST NOT
Tourists must apply for a passport to travel abroad.
Customers must not use that door.
Passive: MUST / MUST NOT
A passport to travel abroad must be applied for.
That door must not be used by customers.
Active: HAS TO / HAVE TO
She has to practice English every day.
Sara and Miho have to wash the dishes every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Maria doesn’t have to clean her bedroom every day.
The children don’t have to clean their bedrooms every day.
Passive: HAS TO / HAVE TO
English has to be practiced every day.
The dishes have to be washed by them every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Her bedroom doesn’t have to be cleaned every day.
Their bedrooms don’t have to be cleaned every day.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO
I am supposed to type the composition.
I am not supposed to copy the stories in the book.
Janet is supposed to clean the living room.
She isn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
They are supposed to make dinner for the family.
They aren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO
The composition is supposed to be typed by me.
The stories in the book are not supposed to be copied.
The living room is supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum aren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner for the family is supposed to be made by them.
Dessert isn’t supposed to be made by them.
PAST MODALS
The past passive form follows this pattern:
modal + have been + past participle
Active: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The students should have learned the verbs.
The children shouldn’t have broken the window.
Passive: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The verbs should have been learned by the students.
The window shouldn’t have been broken by the children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to have learned the verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
The verbs ought to have been learned by the students.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
I was supposed to type the composition.
I wasn’t supposed to copy the story in the book.
Janet was supposed to clean the living room.
She wasn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
Frank and Jane were supposed to make dinner.
They weren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
The composition was supposed to be typed  by me.
The story in the book wasn’t supposed to be copied.
The living room was supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum weren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner was supposed to be made by them.
Dessert wasn’t supposed to be made by them.
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
That firm may have offered Katya a new job.
The students may not have written the paper.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
That firm might have offered Katya a new job.
The students might not have written the paper.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper may not have been written by the students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper might not have been written by the students.

Previous Page -English-Zone.Com Main Page-

                 

How We Write

Videographer at the U.S. open with a live camera shooting the audience.

When you sit down to write make, sure that each sentence reflects what you mean. Use active verbs and write clear concise sentences that convey your ideas.

Active Voice

The subject comes first in an active sentence.

Examples

Senate Republicans proposed a substantially scaled-back stimulus plan.

The city’s police chief and several of his department’s highest ranking officials resigned or were demoted on Tuesday in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca halted large late-stage global trials of its coronavirus vaccine because of a serious suspected adverse reaction in a participant.

Murals thanking frontline workers  popped up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

Always look for an active verb to give your writing more energy.

Example:Avoid the passive “to be” verbs: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been.

Passive Voice

Murals thanking frontline workers were put up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

You can use the passive verbs be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been when the subject of the action becomes the object.

Example:

Many Washington Heights residents are forced to move to other neighborhoods because landlords found tenants willing to pay higher rents.

We use the “to be” verbs to describe a state of being.

Example:

Dayan is a junior in college.

Have

We use variations of the word have when we use it, like must, can or have.

Jorge has to reapply for DACA by October 5, 2017.

We might also use a passive verb when we talk about ongoing action.

Example

The student was reading a textbook when the alarm bell sounded and everyone had to leave the classroom.

Pretentious Language 

Sure, you may think it sounds better to use flowery language and fussy words. But you end up sounding pretentious.

Example

When the scions of the elderly gentleman thought he had a female paramour, they pondered about their fortunes if he were to suddenly become deceased.

Use language that says what you mean.

Example

The children of the older man thought he had a girlfriend and worried about their inheritance if he died suddenly.

Catch phrases, Cliches and Euphemism

You may think you can make a sentence sound important if you use phrases or words that only suggest what you mean. But fussy sentences confuse readers, listeners and viewers.

Fussy                                                  Clear

economically deprived                  poor

youths                                               teenagers, young men, young women, young people,

chemical dependency                  drug addiction

downsize                                          lay off

adult entertainment                      pornography

inner city                                          give the name of the neighborhood

You also want to avoid fussy words that connect ideas

however

furthermore

nevermore

nevertheless

Avoid the Negative

Write sentences that avoid the negative.

Example

President Trump not only picked a fight with NFL players who choose to protest, he ignored the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Better

President Trump picked a fight with NFL players who chose to protest and ignored Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims.

Writing Numbers

Write out numbers one through nine.

Write number 10 and up as you would in math.

Writing Percentages

Write percent rather than %.

Full Names and Acronyms

When you write for print, TV or radio, you separate the full name of an organization and its acronym with the word or, or commas.

Example

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACCA.

When you write for the web you put the acronym in parentheses.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Capitalization

Capitalized and small a

https://www.apstylebook.com/ap_stylebook/capitalization

capitalization 


In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed here.

Many words and phrases, including special cases, are listed separately in this book. Entries that are capitalized without further comment should be capitalized in all uses.
If there is no relevant listing in this book for a particular word or phrase, consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Use lowercase if the dictionary lists it as an acceptable form for the sense in which the word is being used.
As used in this book, capitalize means to use uppercase for the first letter of a word. If additional capital letters are needed, they are called for by an example or a phrase such as use all caps.
Some basic principles:
PROPER NOUNS: Capitalize nouns that constitute the unique identification for a specific person, place, or thing: JohnMaryAmericaBostonEngland.
Some words, such as the examples just given, are always proper nouns. Some common nouns receive proper noun status when they are used as the name of a particular entity: General ElectricGulf Oil.
PROPER NAMES: Capitalize common nouns such as partyriverstreet and westwhen they are an integral part of the full name for a person, place or thing: Democratic PartyMississippi RiverFleet StreetWest Virginia.
Lowercase these common nouns when they stand alone in subsequent references: the partythe riverthe street.
Lowercase the common noun elements of names in plural uses: the Democratic and Republican parties, Main and State streets, lakes Erie and Ontario. Exception: plurals of formal titles with full names are capitalized: Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford.
Among entries that provide additional guidelines are:
animals holidays and holy days
brand names legislature
building months
committee monuments
Congress nicknames
datelines organizations and institutions
days of the week planets
directions and regions plants
family names police department
food religious references
geographic names seasons
governmental bodies trademarks
heavenly bodies unions
historical periods and events
POPULAR NAMES: Some places and events lack officially designated proper names but have popular names that are the effective equivalent: the Combat Zone (a section of downtown Boston), the Main Line (a group of Philadelphia suburbs), the South Side (of Chicago), the Badlands (of South Dakota), the Street (the financial community in the Wall Street area of New York).
The principle applies also to shortened versions of the proper names of one-of-a-kind events: the Series (for the World Series), the Derby (for the Kentucky Derby). This practice should not, however, be interpreted as a license to ignore the general practice of lowercasing the common noun elements of a name when they stand alone.
DERIVATIVES: Capitalize words that are derived from a proper noun and still depend on it for their meaning: AmericanChristianChristianityEnglishFrenchMarxismShakespearean.
Lowercase words that are derived from a proper noun but no longer depend on it for their meaning: french friesherculeanmalapropismpasteurizequixoticvenetian blind.
SENTENCES: Capitalize the first word in a statement that stands as a sentence. See sentences and parentheses.
In poetry, capital letters are used for the first words of some phrases that would not be capitalized in prose. See poetry.
COMPOSITIONS: Capitalize the principal words in the names of books, movies, plays, poems, operas, songs, radio and television programs, works of art, etc. See composition titlesmagazine names and newspaper names.
TITLES: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name. Lowercase formal titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas.
Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles.
ABBREVIATIONS: Capital letters apply in some cases. See abbreviations and acronyms.

How Journalists Cover the News

Mayor Bill di Blasio in the Blue Room at City for a Press Conference

This is an excerpt from a talk in June 2020 sponsored by the Paley Center for Media hosted by Charles Whitaker, Dean of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with CNN Correspondent Omar Jimenez, CBS Correspondent Weijia Jiang and critic Michael Eric Dyson. The clip was assembled for a journalism class at CCNY.

History Informs Journalism – Asian Americans

Cartoon showing an Uncle Sam figure taken aback by a skeleton in the closet representing the Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration for ten years. It was extended for another ten years in 1892.

Chinese migrated to the U. S. in the in the mid 19th century.  An estimated  15 to 20 thousand worked on the Transcontinental Railroad.  They faced discrimination from the American and Irish immigrants who also worked under harsh conditions to build the railroad.

Chinese immigrants also came to California to try to make their fortune after gold was discovered in 1848.  An estimated 25,000 Chinese left China for the U.S. specifically to work the gold mines.

By the end of 1851, Chinese workers made up one-fifth of the population of the four counties where people mined.  In 1870 there were 63,000 Chinese people in the United States and 77 percent were in California.

Thousands of white Americans also came to California looking for riches. But they didn’t realize that it was hard work and that they Chinese immigrants did the back breaking labor to make what they could. When the gold started to run out, the serious racism and attacks began.

An Opinion Piece From USA Today

Yang & Anti-Defamation League CEO: Avoid coronavirus racism and scapegoating

We have to join together to fight this virus effectively. Now is not the time to be torn apart by hatred.

Andrew Yang and Jonathan A. Greenblatt
Opinion contributors

We’ve seen politicians seeking to politicize the virus — decrying it as the “Wuhan virus” for example, or suggesting that foreigners solely are responsible for spreading it; we’ve seen Asian Americans and Jewish Americans and other minority communities blamed for the pandemic; we’ve seen some pundits pointing the finger at prominent Jews as if the virus was the product of some conspiracy; and we’ve seen internet chatter from white supremacists suggesting the disease is spreading in America thanks to an influx of foreigners.

Interview Technique

Whether you interview someone in person, via video chat, or phone, the principles for a good interview remain the same.

  1. Prepare before your interview. Make sure you know as much about the topic and your interview subject as possible.
  2. Use your social skills when you begin the interview. Be friendly without being fawning especially if it’s a celebrity. You want to be on relatively equal footing with your interviewee whether it’s a child, a neighbor, a celebrity, or the president.
  3. Be nice even if you are about to ask tough questions. Be polite.
  4. Often interview subjects feed off of your energy. Make sure that you are energetic without being overbearing.
  5. Try not to read from a list of questions.
  6. Get right to it. Make sure you have the correct spelling and pronunciation of the person’s name in advance.
  7. Don’t waste their time with trivial details.
  8. Make eye contact.
  9. Ask your question and listen to the answer. Listening is really important. The interview subject may say something that needs an immediate followup. She may have given you the answer for the tenth question you have in mind but haven’t asked yet.
  10. You may have to interrupt if the person goes on and on and doesn’t answer the question. Keep the interview in your control. Be firm. But stay pleasant.
  11. Quit when you understand that the interview subject has answered your questions and really has nothing else that is relevant to say.

Recording Phone Calls

Young woman with red hair and smart phone.

We want to make sure that you take special precautions to stay safe when doing an interview. The best method now, not always, is using your phone. You can record with Voice Memos. But it may not be the best quality. You can also get an app that does a good job.

Rev Call Recorder is available for free in the App Store. It says it provides free and unlimited call recording.

TapeACall is a favorite in the podcast world. It offers a free trial for seven days. That might work for your next assignment. But they ask for a credit card and that turned me off.

THE LAW AND RECORDING PHONE CALLS

Federal and state wire-tapping laws govern how, or if, you can record a telephone call.

You could be prosecuted or sued if you don’t follow the rules. So it’s imperative to understand and abide by them.

Federal law requires one-party consent. That party could be you. But individual states have their own laws. New York and New Jersey require only one-party consent. Again, that could be you.

But twelve states including California and Florida require all parties to consent to the recording.

You can check the laws of all the states here.

The Ethics of Recording A Call

It is always important to be as transparent as possible. Before you hit the record button ask your interviewee if it is okay with them. You want to make sure they are comfortable with having their voice and words recorded. They generally say, “Yes,” and appreciate being asked. This is the ethical thing to do when you are dealing with a regular interview.

The rules, not the law, change when you are interviewing for a story that requires undercover work. News organizations have different rules for their reporters and you want to make sure that you follow them carefully.

Journalists have a responsibility to honor the trust of the public and the people they interview. Please take this seriously.