Clearly Active Prose

Every writer, whether consciously or unconsciously, makes choices about word usage, sentence structure, and style to convey a concept or idea. When writing for Mason websites, your choices will be directed by our strategy, brand, and style guides.​

We're following a very specific content strategy, and that means writing in a way that might not be familiar or comfortable for you.

But there are some basic building blocks you can use as the foundation for your writing that will help you construct the content for your site.

Active vs. Passive Voice​​

In a sentence using active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb. A sentence is in passive voice when you make the object of an action into the subject.

Writing in passive voice is grammatical, but it can make your message hard to understand. Passive voice is also indirect and can lack clarity. Writing in active voice forces you to simplify and to be more specific.

  • The bill was signed into law. (Passive voice omits an important detail: Who signed the bill?)
  • The governor signed the bill into law. (Active voice forces you to be clear.)

Active voice also strengthens your writing because it sounds like spoken language (and we're having a conversation with our readers, remember?). When most people speak, they use active voice. Do you know anyone who says, "The horse was ridden by me"? Follow a who-does-what structure.​

The Importance of Editing​​

We all need fresh eyes on our work, especially if we've been spending a long time with it. When we read our content, we have no trouble following the line of thought, and see what we expect to see.

However, that's not necessarily what our audience will see. It can be hard to critique our own work. We struggle to get the text just so, and think it's perfect as is. It's only someone else who can see that, uh, it isn't. Even a piece of clever, accurate writing might not fit on the page or in the paragraph in which it currently lives.

Everyone needs an editor, and that editor needs to tell us these things. And take it with good grace; it's better to hear about our goofs from a Mason insider than a prospective student or parent.

What kinds of things will an editor find? Here's an example of something Camp Digital spotted and edited:

Original Text

Our students can be expected to:

  • Proficiently communicate orally, in writing, digitally, and through other visual media.
  • Read and think analytically.
  • Effectively engage with individuals and groups who have differing perspectives.
  • Collaborate and work in teams.
  • Identify and pursue questions that have not yet been asked.

Edited Text

Our students:

  • Communicate clearly, both when speaking and writing.
  • Are proficient in digital, audiovisual, and other media
  • Read and think analytically.
  • Are comfortable listening to and exchanging ideas with those who have a different perspective.
  • Collaborate and work in teams.
  • Identify pending issues and pro-actively seek solutions.

By following our content strategy, the text has been edited to be more user-friendly, as if this is information we were sharing in a conversation.​