We prefer active friends over fickle, passive folks in real life. The same is true for writing. Can you find the mistake in this excerpt from a cover story I recently wrote?

“Early last May, an interim report was presented to Fort Worth City Council that highlighted incidents of systemic racism within the city.”

Here’s a hint. This was my editor’s comment: Why the passive voice? Please make it active.

In my first draft, the active agent (subject) isn’t clear. Who presented the report? It isn’t clear.

My rewrite went like this:

“The members of the year-old Race & Culture Task Force, who authored the report, presented some of their findings to city council at City Hall last May.”

Now we know the “who” behind the action. Former President Ronald Reagan made the passive voice famous decades ago with the statement, “Mistakes were made.” Linguistically, it was a smart move. He acknowledged that there had been an error, but he skirted the issue of who was at fault. The truth is, there are few if any times when the passive voice is useful. Make a habit of placing the subject in front of the verb. Practice rewriting these sentences for a better grasp of the active voice.

The story was well told. Missing subject — Susie.

Mistakes were made. Missing subject — Ronald Reagan.

The car was dinged. Missing subject — distracted driver.

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