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Cross-post: How the passive voice kills your message

Originally published on January 30, 2014 in Sightline Daily.

by Anna Fahey

As I listened to President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, I admit I was encouraged and moved at times. But I couldn’t help giving each sentence Anat Shenker-Osorio’s passive-voice test.

Shenker-Osorio is author of “Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense About the Economy.” She’s a language researcher and consultant and one of my favorite messaging gurus.

As she wrote in the Boston Globe a while back, when Obama—or anybody—uses the passive, they invariably fail to say who is to blame or why the challenges and problems and outrages they’re describing exist in the first place. This failure, in turn, leaves us with no good clues about viable solutions. If we don’t know how we got here, it’s hard to figure out how we get where we want to go.

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