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.
“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.”
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.
In the first inning, the three strikeouts were thrown by Mets pitcher Rick Porcello.
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
The roads were destroyed by heavy rains.
Heavy rains were responsible for the destruction of the roads.
Heavy rains destroyed the roads.
The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net.
The goalie swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.
The three-pointer was shot by the Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet in the game against the Boston Celtics.
The Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet shot the three-pointer in the game against the Boston Celtics.
The legislation was sent to Congress by the president.
The president sent the legislation to Congress.
The president sent Congress the legislation.
The earthquake in Puerto Rico caused victims to be airlifted by helicopter to the hospital.
A helicopter airlifted victims of the earthquake in Puerto Rico and rushed them to the hospital.
A helicopter airlifted earthquake victims and rushed them to the hospital.
Carolina is responsible for monitoring and balancing the budgets for the journalists.
Carolina monitors and balances the budgets
Carolina monitors and balances budgets.
Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of an action, not the actor.
Many Long Beach residents were forced to leave the beautiful beach area to escape the hurricane.
Use strong, colorful verbs
Violate instead of in violation
Resisted instead of was resistant
Avoid Passive Phrases Like These:
Had been passive
A gerund acts like a verb and a noun. You form a gerund by adding –ing to the end of a verb:
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.
The Mets are feeling like losers at this point in the season.
The Mets feel like losers at this point in the season.
Fans are wondering if the Jets will be losing games all season.
Fans wonder if the Jets will lose games all season.
Nets players are surprising their new coach with their driving ambition.
Nets players surprised their new coach with their drive and ambition.
We sat up all night reading.
We read all night.
We sat up and read all night.
I like to go jeeping in the woods.
I live to ride my jeep in the woods.
But gerunds can work when you talk about continuous action.
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.
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
PRESENT PERFECT, PAST PERFECT and FUTURE PERFECT
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.
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.
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.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion and speech, the press and the right of people to gather to protest and complain to the government.
In its own words:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to freely assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
After the founders of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, some of them realized they had left out critical guarantees to safeguard the type of nation, free of tyranny, they and others wanted.
The newly minted senators and congressmen debated about whether “checks and balances” would protect the rights of the people, or whether they needed to write amendments to the Constitution.
Freedom of the press was one of the priorities for Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson wrote a letter to another lawmaker saying,
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Some wanted to rewrite the Constitution but worried that people would think that they intended to tear up what they wanted to protect. They turned to U.S. Virginia Representative James Madison, a good thinker and a good writer.
Madison argued that, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
In 1789 Madison drafted amendments and presented them to the House of Representatives. The House approved 17 amendments. The Senate approved 12 and the states ratified 10 in December, 1791 as the Bill of Rights.
Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States and James Madison became the fourth.
Our first instinct is to pull images and music from the internet. Everything is right there for the taking and many who create content think about using what’s accessible and seems available. Borrowing can quickly solve a variety of editorial problems.
But not all material on the internet is free to use and it may be illegal to just grab and go.
Copyright is a law that protects creators of works that include text, books, photos, graphics, artwork, music, and anything that has a copyright symbol next to it.
Copyright extends for the life of the author plus 70 years. There are some efforts underway in Washington to change the copyright law and reduce the number of years a creator can hold on to copyright.
But the bottom line is that the law, and basic fairness, require us to honor copyright.
That means that we can’t borrow material freely from the internet unless the creator clearly states that you can use the work.
Fee for Use
If you want to use an image or music and the creator does not indicate that you may borrow it, there’s likely a fee to use it.
Copyright and Creative Commons
On the other hand, the good news is that some content creators are eager to have their work used and distributed even if they don’t get paid.
Most, however, want credit.
The Creative Commons License was established in 2002 to make a wide variety of content available from willing content creators who want to get their work seen and heard, but may also want credit. The Creative Commons 4.0 license requires you to attribute the photo, or piece of music or artwork. You must link to the site where the image came from and you must give credit on your site to the creator.
Flikr,Unsplash, SnapFish, 500px , postimage, and other sites that will probably start up by the time you read this, offer photo sharing of one kind or another.
Many of the photos posted on these sharing sites ask for Creative Commons attribution. They make their work available under a Creative Commons License.
In most cases, even with Creative Commons, the creator wants credit. You can freely use these images, but you must credit the creator either on the image, or somewhere in the printed material or the text on the website or the brochure. There is often a request for you to link to the creators site, or Wikimedia where the image may have been posted.
You can find images with Creative Commons licenses indicate via Google and Bing search engines.
When you use images on Google there is a tab for settings.
On Bing there is a tab for License.
Click on Advanced Search and it will take you to this page:
Choose: “free to use or share, even commercially”
If you plan to modify the image or graphic make sure that you choose: “free to use, share or modify, even commercially.”
You’ll then get a range of photos that you can use for free. But you must if it is an attribution license, you must give credit to the creator.
If you use Bing once you choose the subject that you are searching, images will come up and the list of headings in the bar at the top of the images will include the word: License.
You can also find images through Wikimedia or Wikipedia
Some people will allow you to use the images without attributions. But be very careful. To find the license you may have to click through several layers to check to see the requirement.
Pixabay features a wide range of photos posted by photographers. They are free, but you can leave a donation for the artist. They ask for coffee money.
Photo by Gellinger, Courtesy Pixabay, Creative Commons License
On Wikipedia, and elsewhere, you may find works labeled Public Domain. The federal Office of Copyright defines public domain this way:
“The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.”
U.S. Government agencies maintain photo and video archives and most of the work is in the public domain.
This Department of Defense photo for example is free for you to use. It’s always a good idea to give credit to the photographer and the agency.
Again, by the time you read this there may be many new sites.
Fair Use in News and Reviews
From the American Bar Association
Vol. 28No. 6
By Pierre Vudrag
Pierre Vudrag practices media and sports law in Southern California.
Fair use is a doctrine that is used to encourage criticism and commentary of copyrighted works. It is based on the concept that one should be free to use portions of copyrighted materials without asking permission from the copyright owner. It is an equitable principle that is frequently used as a defense by those sued for copyright infringement.
Determining fair use. To get a general sense of how fair use is applied, one must understand a set of fair use factors outlined in the lineage of case law dealing with copyright infringement. These factors are weighed in each case to determine whether a use qualifies as a fair use, often through varying court decisions with an expansive or restrictive meaning that could be open to interpretation. If a use is deemed not to be a fair use, then one would essentially be infringing on the rights of the copyright owner and may be liable for damages. Unfortunately, even if you strictly follow these factors and the copyright owner disagrees with your fair use interpretation, your dispute may have to be resolved through litigation or the payment of licensing fees.
Fair use in the general sense, with no hard-and-fast rules, is the use of copyrighted material without permission from the appropriate copyright owner for a limited and, as the courts deem, “transformative” purpose so as to comment on, criticize, or parody such copyrighted work. Specifically, the Supreme Court emphasized that the transformative nature of the use determines whether the material has been used to assist in the creation of something new, rather than merely copied verbatim into another work. In other words, one must ask: (1) has the material taken from the original work been transformed by adding new expression or meaning? and (2) was value added to the original, thereby creating new information, or new aesthetics, or new insights and understandings?
Generally, two categories are used when making a fair use—commentary or parody. Typically, when focusing on news and editorial reviews, one would look to the first category, commentary. When commenting on or critiquing a copyrighted work, fair use principles would allow one to reproduce some of the work to accomplish one’s intent.
Courts have generally used four factors in resolving fair use disputes, which are laid out in Section 107 of the Copyright Act: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion taken; and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market.
The purpose and character of the use. The “purpose and character” factor is the determining factor in many fair use decisions, as it allows the court to take a subjective look into the potentially infringing party’s intentions behind the use. Particularly in cases involving news reports, footage, reviews, and sports highlights, this factor typically favors the party claiming fair use for various reasons.
The first thing that we need to know is that copyright protection does not protect factual information conveyed in the copyrighted work, meaning that publicizing the scores of a sporting event or other factual information such as injuries, retirement, and so forth is considered fair use and does not constitute copyright infringement. What helps to strengthen a fair use argument in a case not involving the use of mere factual information is the use of the copyrighted material for the purpose of legitimate news commentary. For example, when using a clip or photograph to report the results of a sporting event or other factual information, courts have regarded the use of copyrighted material as fair use when the use is (1) brief quotations only; (2) presented in a news report; and (3) presented in a newsreel or broadcast of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.
Nature of the copyrighted work—published or unpublished. The scope of fair use is narrower for unpublished works because an author has the right to control the first public appearance of his or her expression. Therefore, you have a stronger argument in favor of fair use if the material copied is from a published work rather than an unpublished work.
Amount and substantiality of the portion taken. A general misunderstanding of fair use application has led to the “seven-second rule,” which many clearance representatives follow. A brief use of footage may not be deemed fair use unless all fair use factors can be applied. But the amount of footage used is a key factor in determining if a use is not fair, as highlighted in a key 1977 court case. The Second Circuit found that a CBS affiliate’s use of a one-minute-and-15-second clip of a 72-minute Charlie Chaplin film was not a fair use when used in a news report about Chaplin’s death. The court deemed that the portions taken were “substantial” and part of the “heart” of the film. The court’s analysis may have been different if CBS had used only a limited portion of the footage to simply enhance its news commentary on Chaplin’s death. The Second Circuit’s ruling is a clear indication that this type of use will never be considered fair use.
Effect of the use on the potential market. One of the most important fair use factors is whether the use deprives the copyright owner of income or undermines a new or potential market for the copyrighted work. If a copyright owner feels that he or she has been deprived of income, this is likely to trigger a lawsuit. This is true even if you are not competing directly with the original work.
Does fair use apply? Although the four-factor test of Copyright Act Section 107 provides a firm foundation for understanding which uses are fair uses, courts have infamously favored different factors in different cases, resulting in very unpredictable outcomes. There is a sizable gray area in which fair use may or may not apply.
So how does a news organization invoke fair use while falling within the permitted guidelines established by case law and without invoking potential litigation? The simplest way is to get permission from the copyright holder, but this is not always possible given the fluidity and immediacy of news reporting. To invoke fair use when using noncleared third-party clips, the news organization should follow these guidelines: (1) make sure the use is for a legitimate news report; (2) only use the clip when reporting on a fairly recent news event (usually 24 to 48 hours); (3) make sure that the use is a brief use of the clip to underscore the reporting of the news; (4) make sure there is actual commentary or criticism by a news reporter or anchor of the action appearing in the clip (there has to be a “transformative use” of the copyrighted material); (5) if reporting on a sporting event, make sure the event has been concluded, meaning it may not be fair use if the game has not been completed; and (6) make sure the materials are used in a bona fide news program.
More Information about the Entertainment and Sports Industries Forum
This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 1 of Entertainment and Sports Lawyer, Fall 2010 (28:3).
For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.
The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.
Two things stand out:
The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.
Let’s tackle the first false report.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.
The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them. News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.
The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.
Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:
“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.
“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.
Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.
Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.
“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”
Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.
But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.
How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?
The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.
ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America
The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it. Take your time. Report only what you know.
2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.
PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.
In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.
It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.
Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.
Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.
If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.
PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.
Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.
Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA) money went in the 2016 election.
Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,
See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.