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About the Author:

With a tender heart, a drive for learning and a gift for sharing, Margaret brings her years of experience as a licensed professional counselor and a woman of faith to all her writings. Her insights and biblical understanding bring home principles we all can use - no matter the circumstances we are in.


Writing Coach Corner

Who Dunnit?

By Margaret Cook, M.Ed., Licensed Professional Counselor, Life Coach


NSOF is an unusual venue for mystery writers. Writing for the internet is a particular challenge. NSOF writers are publishing for web readers who are scanning quickly through pages of text. Your message needs to be clear and captivating. Reducing the mystery in your sentences will draw the reader into your story.

Running the spell check before you submit writing for any audience is a great first step to proof reading. Have you ever turned on the Microsoft Office “Grammar and Style” option of spell check to help improve your prose?

This is a great tool for taking your proofreading to the “next level.” Start using this tool today if you are not already.

I bet every writer will see the program pick up a sentence and clue you in that some of your sentences use passive voice. If you are like me, the problem of passive voice multiplies. Once you write one sentence in passive voice, others are sure to follow.

So what is the problem with passive voice anyway and why is it best to change EVERY passive voice sentence to ACTIVE voice? Writing a sentence in passive voice usually uses more words. The passive sentence is also less clear and will therefore be less compelling for the reader, especially the reader in a hurry.

An active sentence pairs a past, present or future tense verb with a subject. The sentence sounds “active” when you read it. Think about it as “to do.” A passive sentence uses a form of “to be” and the past participle of a verb (usually ending in “ed”). The object of an action becomes the subject of the sentence and it is not clear who performs the action. This strategy could be useful in the witness protection program or someplace where you are trying to be careful not to reveal who was involved. For the NSOF readers, this strategy is not necessary and can create confusion for the hurried reader.

The easiest way to improve the sentence is to ask yourself WHO did this? (Who dunnit)? Then rewrite the sentence and put the subject or agent who performed the action early in the sentence and someplace to the left of the verb. Look at the examples in your grammar program and read the articles and books at the end of this article.

Here are two examples:

Passive – To save time, the articles were written on the computer.

The best 100 articles were selected for the book.

Active - To save time, NSOF authors write articles on the computer.

The NSOF Editor selects the best 100 articles for the book.

If you still need help, post the sentence on the NSOF writer’s blog as a comment to the post on passive voice. Any NSOF writer who stops by the blog will suggest an alternative way to write the sentence. If you are an NSOF writer who has conquered the temptation of overusing passive voice, stop by the blog regularly and help our colleagues solve the mystery of “Who dunnit?”


On The Web

In print

Why Does My Boss Hate My Writing? By Becky Burckmyer (also available in a newer edition on the bargain table at most Barnes and Noble Bookstores)

The Elements of Style Illustrated by William Strunk, Jr., E.B. White and Maira Kalmon

Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman

Copyright © July 2007 – Margaret Cook. All rights reserved.
Permission to use or duplicate this article is available by contacting the author at


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