Choosing the right words

Communication Corner: Choosing the right words to tell your story

Written communication – print or digital – is the primary way churches communicate with members, visitors, and the surrounding community.  The words you use and the tone they convey affect how well your church communicates.  


Action vs. passive verbs:

Depending on the way in which you word a sentence, a verb can be either active or passive. When the verb is active, the subject of the verb is doing the action. When the verb is passive, the subject is the recipient of the action rather than doing it.

Active: The girl threw the ball.           Passive: The ball was thrown by the girl.

Active voice makes your meaning clear for readers, and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy. Sentences in active voice are also more concise than those in passive voice because fewer words are required to express action. Sentences in passive voice can seem awkward, and overuse of passive voice can cause your writing to seem flat and uninteresting. 


Positive vs. Negative language

Whether you communicate orally, or in written form, the way you express yourself will affect whether your message is received positively or negatively.

Using positive language tends to reduce conflict, improve communication, reduce defensiveness in others and helps portray the speaker/writer as credible and respectable. Positive language tends to create the action you want, while negative language tends to do the opposite. People remember more often when the sentence begins “Remember to …” rather than “Don’t forget to ….”

Negative phrasing and language often have the following characteristics:

  • tells the recipient what cannot be done.
  • has a subtle tone of blame
  • includes words like can’t, won’t, unable to, that tell the recipient what the sending agency cannot do.
  • does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences. 

Positive phrasing and language have the following qualities:

  • tells the recipient what can be done
  • suggests alternatives and choices available to the recipient
  • sounds helpful and encouraging rather than bureaucratic
  • stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated. 



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