What is passive voice and why should you avoid it in your insurance writing? No matter what you’re writing for the insurance industry, a blog, a technical report or a white paper designed for marketing your business, passive voice weakens your writing. Once you understand a little about passive voice, it becomes much easier to find and eliminate it in your own writing.
What is passive voice?
Passive voice sentence construction occurs when the subject of a sentence becomes the object of an action. I know, it’s a grammar thing, something we disliked in school. Here’s an example of passive voice.
Our underwriting team was defeated by the western region.
Passive sentence construction weakens your writer because, in a nutshell, no one takes responsibility for the action. Written actively, this sentence would read like this:
The western underwriting region defeated our sales team.
Ouch! That wording smarts a bit more, doesn’t it?
In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.
The applicant was rejected by Tom due to his negative loss history.
In active voice, the subject of the sentence (Tom the underwriter) performs the action.
Tom rejected the applicant due to his recent negative loss history.
One easy way to fix this and many passive sentences is to put the actor, Tom, ahead of the verb, “rejected” in the sentence.
Tips to find passive voice
To find passive voice, look for verb forms like “to be,” like “is,” “are,” “were,” followed by what is known as a past particle, a verb typically ending in “ed.” To make things harder, not all forms of “to be” are passive, but it’s a good red flag.
Here are a few more examples.
The claims department’s closing ratio was reduced last month by a high number of flu-ridden adjusters.
Rewritten actively you might say something like this:
Absenteeism in the claims department from the flu reduced last month’s closing ratios.
Here’s another passive construction.
The marketing team’s attendance at RIMS was delayed by one day due to bad weather in Atlanta.
Rewritten actively, the sentence might read like this:
Due to bad weather in Atlanta, the marketing team arrived at RIMS one day late.
I know what you’re thinking: “This is too hard! It’s grammar! I have a solution for you, or rather Microsoft Office does. While grammar check in MS Word won’t catch every instance of passive voice, it does a darn good job.
Here’s the plan
First, ensure you turn on grammar check in Word. If you aren’t sure how, read this link. Just be sure when you click your Review tab on Word and you click the Spelling & Grammar tab, the box at the bottom marked “Check grammar” has a check mark in it. (Now, if I’d said “is clicked,” I would be using a passive construction and Word would not catch it.)
Next, run the Spelling & Grammar check on your entire document. If you are new at writing active voice (the opposite of passive voice and what we strive for), you will probably have a high percentage of passive voice in your document. You will find the percentage of passive voice instances on the final grammar check tab under Readability, Passive Sentences.
Finally, to narrow down the location of your passive writing, go paragraph by paragraph with Spelling and Grammar. Do this by highlighting one paragraph at a time. If necessary, highlight sentence by sentence. Find the offending sentence and reword it. As you move to active voice in all your documents, you’ll find your writing comes alive and your audience, whether or not they understand grammar mechanics, will appreciate your writing style much more.
I’m a technical person – Give me a number
What percentage of writing should be passive? Professional writers argue percentages, but I strive for no passive writing in my work. If you’re new to this concept, shoot for five percent passive, and then aim even lower as you learn.
But we write about insurance,” you may argue. “It’s technical and somewhat boring!” Experts argue that even highly technical writing should avoid the use of passive voice. Even though we’re writing about insurance, we should never bore our readers. Our writing should be clear, crisp, concise and active. This writing style engages the reader and helps to ensure he or she will tag along to the end of your writing, whether it’s a claim report, an underwriting manual or a insurance white paper designed to educate clients or consumers.
One of the problems of passive voice is that we may attempt to distance ourselves from our decisions with the use of passive voice. I recommend you step up and say it like it is – take responsibility by using active voice. After all, that’s what we do in the insurance industry – we make decisions.
Active voice bolsters your writing, helping to engage your reader every step of the sometimes technical way. With the help of Microsoft and a few simple tips, you can actively improve your writing.
Read my recent article offering training tips for new trainers.
For an overview of the latest in risk management trends, read this week’s Cavalcade of Risk.
How safe is your dryer? According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), about 2,900 dryer fires occur each year in the United States. These fires caused five deaths, about 100 injuries and over $35 million in property losses annually. While the leading cause of dryer fires is accumulated dust, fiber and lint, the type of exhaust hose you install can greatly reduce your risk of fire.
Using a plastic or vinyl dryer hose can cause fires, according to the USFA. The photo shows in the top half the type of dryer exhaust hose you should use. If you are currently using the bottom type, a plastic hose, replace it immediately. These types of hoses can melt or ignite.
It’s always a good idea to take a few other preventative measures. 1) Clean your lint filter after each cycle. 2) Install a smoke alarm in your laundry room or adjacent to your dryer. 3) Never leave the dryer running when you’re away from home. 4) Never vent your dryer anywhere except directly outdoors. Venting into an attic or soffit is a recipe for fire and violates most local fire codes.
The average cost of a dryer fire if it’s contained to the room of origin ran just under $1,800 in the past few years, according to USFA. However, dryer fires that spread beyond the room of origin had an average cost of just over $49,000. Money is only part of the equation if a dryer fire breaks out in your home, however. Who can put a dollar value on the injury or death of a loved one, or the death of a beloved family pet, should a fire break out?
For further information on dryer safety, visit this link National Fire Protection Association link.
Every insurance professional should develop several professional biographies. Why a bio? Because despite our increasing reliance on electronic communications, people still want to know a little about you before they contact you. Your bio is a marketing tool that helps to build your brand. Your brand is your name and the name of your company. When people consider insurance, you want your name to be the one that comes into their minds. This can only come through repeated branding of your name, or the name of your agency, with insurance.
Here are the top reasons to write your professional bio.
There are thousands of insurance agents and other insurance professionals for people to choose from, plus growing competition from direct writers. Therefore, it is imperative that you set yourself apart from the crowd. A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.
A bio is the quickest way to say, “Insurance is not just a job; insurance is my career and I am proud to be an agent.”
A bio will introduce you to new clients and potential strategic partners. Your bio can open doors to many new opportunities.
You can use your bio to obtain speaking engagements and media appearances. Perhaps you might author an article for a local newspaper on some aspect of insurance. Maybe you could be a guest on a local radio talk show. Perhaps you may give a talk at a local service organization. The bio opens the door to all this and more to help you build your brand.
Your bio can provide a dash of personal information that helps people relate to you in some way. This builds bridges and encourages people to contact you.
Have at least two bios on hand. One should be short, so pick the key points in your personal life and your career that provide the best flavor of who you are. A longer one can take a deeper dive into your background and you can use it for speaking engagements and in responses to requests for proposals. Once you write your bio, you can use it again and again, or revise it as your career deepens and your expertise grows.
If you or your team need help creating a bio that works for you, feel free to contact us at Insurance Writer.
A few years ago, the Oakland Police Department spent hours trying to oust a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his house. After firing tear gas canisters into the house, the officers finally noticed the home owner standing beside them in the police lineup, chanting, “Please come out and give yourself up!”
It’s a great thing to set goals and feel proud of our successes. However, to truly succeed in life as well in business, we should remember there are others beside us, also helping us to succeed. Survey after survey shows employees feel increasingly disenfranchised from their work, which hurts productivity and creates customer service issues galore. Employers complain woefully about a lack of talent, yet fail to do everything in their power to keep the very employees they currently employ.
Take a moment today to listen to and sincerely respond to those who help you to succeed, including your employees.
Read a host of good articles in this month’s Cavalcade of Risk, including one I wrote about which insurance coverages your professional consultancy needs.
Ohio has become the first state to officially allow continuing education for accountants in ten-minute increments. I don’t know whether to yell “Squirrel” or applaud them for understanding the way most people seem to learn today.
What do you think? Would you want your accountant doing his or her continuing education in ten-minute increments?
Ever wondered how my voice sounds? You’ll never have to wonder again. Listen to a 15-minute risk management podcast where I review the top five mistakes new risk managers, or any managers for that matter, can avoid.