Use the Active Voice Writing Tenders
The writing style of most business documents relies heavily on the passive voice. With the active voice the subject of the sentence is actually doing something, whereas with the passive voice something is being done to the subject.
In his book On Writing Stephen King gives a humorous insight into why some writers are drawn to passive verbs.
“I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with; the subject just has to close its eyes and think of England, to paraphrase Queen Victoria. I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers’ torts majestic, I guess it does.”
The active voice is more direct and gives much more energy to the writing.
“I will always appreciate your kindness.”
“Your kindness will always be appreciated by me.”
The first sentence is more concise, energetic and direct.
“We provide central finance and support services.”
“Central finance and support services are provided.”
Using the passive voice in this instance means that it is impossible to tell who actually provides the service. Is it the organisation in question or some other agency?
“We run a variety of programmes in support of community integration. It’s an important priority…”
“Community integration is an important priority for the management committee and a variety of programmes are run in support of this aim.”
In this instance using the active voice is more vigorous and confers responsibility, whereas the passive voice avoids it.
There are exceptions of course, and according to Strunk and White in the Elements of Style “the writer should not entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary. [Passive] The dramatists of the Restoration are little esteemed today. [Active] Modern Readers have little esteem for the dramatists of the Restoration. The first would be the preferred form in a paragraph on the dramatists of the Restoration, the second in a paragraph on the tastes of modern readers. The need to make a particular word the subject of the sentence will often, as in these examples, determine which voice is to be used.”
Stephen King’s take on exceptions is typically more dramatic.
“I won’t say there’s no place for the passive tense. Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlour sofa is a fair way to put this, although ‘was carried’ and ‘was placed’ still irk the shit out of me. I accept them but I don’t embrace them. What I would embrace is Freddie and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlour sofa. Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It’s dead, for Christ’s sake! Fuhgeddaboudit!”
Hopefully this bid writing tip will help you improve your bid writing approach the next time you have to tender for a government contract.
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