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Nurses: This One Tiny Writing Tweak Makes Your Articles More Engaging

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Elizabeth Hanes has 12 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'.

6 Followers; 12 Articles; 9,512 Profile Views; 281 Posts

How Important Is Proper English Grammar When Writing Articles?

Want more people to read your articles? Use this pro writing tip.

Nurses: This One Tiny Writing Tweak Makes Your Articles More Engaging

For a writer, nothing beats the feeling of posting an article at allnurses.com and watching the “views” ratchet up and up and up, followed by seeing the replies (comments) unfurl into a long thread. Publishing a popular article provides a rush that feels almost addictive.

On the flip side, though, if you consistently post boring articles, people soon will stop reading anything new you publish. Cue the sad trombone: womp, womp, waaaahhhh.

Make Your Articles More Engaging by Using Active Voice

One of the tricks pro writers like me use to craft more interesting and engaging articles is to use a grammar element you may vaguely remember from 8th grade English class: active voice. Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a boring grammar lesson! But I do want to explain what active voice is and why it will help your articles attract more views and comments.

American English offers writers two “voices” to choose from: active and passive. You’ll be extremely familiar with passive voice if you have ever read a research study or had to produce a paper in nursing school. In passive voice, the “actor” or “doer” of the action isn’t identified, and passive voice also tends to use past-tense, "state of being" type verbs, such as “was,” “were” and “had been.” Here’s an example:

Quote

“Patients were given lisinopril. Blood pressure was lowered in half the patients.”

Reading sentences like this may cause you to ask yourself: Who gave the patients lisinopril? What lowered the blood pressure?

Academic and research writing seems to promote passive voice over active, and I don’t know why. At any rate, active voice is livelier and clearer, and you can use it in your articles to engage and entertain more readers.

In active voice, the “doer” is always clearly identified. Here’s how I would rewrite the example sentences using active voice:

Quote

“Researchers gave patients lisinopril. The medication lowered blood pressure in half the patients who received it.”

Here, we know precisely who gave the lisinopril, in contrast to the passive voice example where apparently the med was administered by some mystery individual. We also know the drug brought down the patients’ blood pressure.

Choosing Strong Verbs

Not only does active voice identify the “doer” in every sentence but it almost forces you to choose strong verbs. Strong verbs help the reader draw a picture of the action in her mind's-eye, which is what I mean when I talk about writing more “engaging” articles. Compare these two examples:

Passive Voice

Quote

The ICU was in chaos. Three surgical patients had arrived at the same time, and suddenly the electricity went off. Voices could be heard shouting for assistance before power came back on.

Active Voice

Quote

Nurses and techs scurried back and forth across the ICU as anesthesia residents helped wheel three new surgical patients onto the unit at the same time. In the midst of this chaos, a lightning strike took down the electricity, shuttering the department in darkness. Nurses shouted for assistance until, in an instant, the backup generator kicked on and flooded the unit with light again.

Which of these scenarios paints a more vivid picture in your mind? Which of these can you instantly envision?

The passive voice example uses weak verbs: was, had arrived, went off, could be heard. The active voice example uses robust, active verbs: scurried, wheel, took down, shuttering, shouted, kicked on, flooded.

How to Incorporate Active Voice in Your Articles

After I write an article, I review it sentence by sentence to evaluate the language I’ve used. Many times I’ll find my articles contain much more passive voice than I’d like. I simply edit each line to make it clearer (by identifying the “doer”) and more vivid by choosing active verbs. If you use this strategy, too, I think you’ll find readers eagerly await each article you publish, garnering many views and comments.

In fact, why not pop over to the Trending Nursing Articles page and look at which articles are receiving the most views, comments, and shares – and why. Is it strictly because of the subject matter, or does the great writing have something to do with it, too?

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is 'the nurse who knows content.' For a decade she has helped major healthcare brands communicate with their target audiences to build relationships and drive business results. Learn more about Elizabeth at RN2Writer.

6 Followers; 12 Articles; 9,512 Profile Views; 281 Posts

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TriciaJ has 39 years experience as a RN and specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory.

12 Followers; 3,504 Posts; 36,101 Profile Views

Here are some other points:  If you want your article or post to be read, please divide into paragraphs.  My eyeballs want to save themselves for a complicated knitting pattern or my Spanish grammar exercises, not a wall of text.

If you want to be credible, use more verbs than adjectives.  Tell me exactly what someone did and said.  I'm not interested in vague narrative with inflammatory descriptors attached.

Keep it concise and to the point.  Make sure pertinent details are included; pare down the extraneous.

This last one is rather pedantic of me, but here goes:  please proofread for grammar errors.  Do not use apostrophes to pluralize.  Learn the difference between who's and whose (that one makes my eye twitch).

Thanks, Elizabeth for giving me a soapbox for my pet peeves.   I think we hurt our credibility as professionals when we can't muster basic writing skills.

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Elizabeth Hanes has 12 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'.

6 Followers; 12 Articles; 281 Posts; 9,512 Profile Views

I didn't get quite so granular as "divide into paragraphs" (always excellent advice!), but I did delve into a little bit about formatting articles in a different post on the topic:

Mastering grammar and punctuation can be challenging, but I do agree it undermines a person's credibility if they cannot communicate well in writing. An excellent resource for refreshing one's memory about these basics is the Purdue Owl Lab.

Thanks for your comments!

Beth

 

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heartbeatcontent is a BSN, RN and specializes in Med/Surg, Gero.

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Excellent advice! This tweak makes copy substantially more readable. It takes practice though. I am always working on my active voice. 

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Elizabeth Hanes has 12 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'.

6 Followers; 12 Articles; 281 Posts; 9,512 Profile Views

Gosh, me too! You would think after so many years of writing we'd be good at it, but for some reason it requires extreme vigilance to stamp out the passive voice. LOL

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