Harrison Middleton University

Avoiding “Is”

Avoiding “Is”

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


September 3, 2021

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

The brutal editing process is, unfortunately, necessary. For one example, editing identifies extra language. This makes the essay flow in a tight and smooth manner which your readers will appreciate. It also highlights your main idea by removing excess jargon. Proofreading ensures that your tone, verb tenses, and language all make sense, granting a more polished tone. I suggest that you spend thirty minutes reading through your paper before you hit submit. Editing is not easy and it is not pretty, but it will help your papers shine. In short, editing is always worth the effort!

Accustomed to speaking in the passive voice, it often sneaks into our written work. However, read your essay aloud to identify sentences which are incomplete, run-on, or in the passive voice. The following tips center on the passive voice and come from two sources: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and the 2007 Write for College Student Handbook. I hope they will be useful for you and inspire you to edit your work before submitting to a class or publication!

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style suggests the active voice because it is “direct and vigorous.” They say, “The habitual use of the active voice…makes for forcible writing.” They offer these examples:

“There were a great many dead leaves on the ground.” versus “Dead leaves covered the ground.”

“At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.” versus “The rooster’s crow came at dawn.”

“The reason he left college was that his health became impaired.” versus “Failing health compelled him to leave college.”

“It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had.” versus “She soon repented her words.”

These changes may seem straightforward, but can be much harder to spot from the writer’s perspective. Only upon closer look will these edits present themselves. Strunk and White invite us to make use of the thesaurus and dictionary and then, what seemed bulky turns into a game. Most dictionaries list a handful of synonyms or antonyms, but a thesaurus provides a wide variety of options. Moreover, the thesaurus displays differing definitions which will further narrow down your word choice. Also, pay attention to parts of speech. For example, the word “rebel” can be a noun, verb or adjective, so establish the desired meaning and then select accordingly.

Write for College supports Strunk and White. They say:

“If your writing seems slow moving and impersonal, you may have used too many passive verbs. With passive verbs, the subject of the sentence receives the action: “The tree was struck by lightning.” Here’s an example of a passage in the passive voice:

“The latest poetry jam was enjoyed by everyone. Every reading was greeted with hoots, hollers, and foot stomping. The final performance was the object of the most vocal outpouring by the audience. This poem about ‘macho men’ was shared by Larry Smith.”

The cure: Unless you need a passive verb, change it to the active voice: “Lightning struck the tree.” Here is the passage written in the active voice:

“Everyone enjoyed the latest poetry jam. Hoots, hollers, and foot stomping greeted each reading. The final performance garnered the audience’s most vocal outpouring when Larry Smith shared his poem about ‘macho men.’”

This kind of word play can be tedious. But it can also be fun. Imagine it like a choose your own adventure novel where you control the destination. I try to utilize these very techniques on this blog too. For example, here is a sentence from today’s blog. It first read: “We are accustomed to speaking in the passive voice, so this often transmits into our written work.” However, to avoid the passive voice, I changed it to: “Accustomed to speaking in the passive voice, it often sneaks into our written work.”

Now it is your turn to give editing a try. Good luck and have fun!

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