Improve Your Writing With An Active Voice

When a visitor lands on your page you have at most a few seconds to capture their attention before they reach for the back button. Why waste those few seconds with passive writing?

The voice of a verb determines whether the subject of a sentence performs or receives an action. There are two voices, active and passive. These two voices are different from the sound of your blogging voice which I wrote about previously. In active voice the subject of the sentence performs an action and in passive voice the subject receives an action.

  • The boy threw the ball.
  • The ball was thrown by the boy.

In the first sentence the boy is the subject and the boy performs the action of throwing. In the second sentence the ball is the subject and receives the action of being thrown.

Using more of the active voice in your writing can help your sales pages convert or can make you a better blogger.

Active Voice

Active voice is the preferred voice to use in most of your writing. It’s more concise and uses fewer words. Even in the two simple sentences above the passive sentence is 40% longer. When it comes to writing online less is generally better.

Use the active voice when you want your sentence to be stronger and more direct. Somebody performing an action is stronger than if they had that same action performed on them. Looking again at the two sentences above the boy is strong because he’s in control of the action. Had he not thrown the ball it would still be in his hand. The boy is in charge of the sentence. In the second sentence the ball is weak. It’s at the mercy of the boy who could have thrown it or just as easily dropped it on the floor.

The active voice is also clearer. Consider the following two sentences

  • Sara drove the truck down the street.
  • The truck was driven down the street.

It’s clear what’s going in the first sentence. In the second sentence there’s a question of who might be driving the truck. The second sentence requires the reader to make some assumptions about what is happening. Even if we add ‘by Sara’ to the end of the second sentence it only becomes clear who’s driving when we reach the end of the sentence.

Passive Voice

Before you come to the conclusion that the passive voice is always bad, there are times when you can and even should use it. Using passive voice can add variety to your writing and a little variety is a good thing to maintain interest. But you should not use passive voice just to provide variety. You’re better to make a deliberate decision to use it.

Some reasons for using passive voice include:

  • To emphasize the action – Sometimes placing the emphasis on the action instead of the subject is desired. Did you see how hard that ball was hit? The emphasis is on how hard the ball was hit and not who hit it.
  • To be tactfulIt was a mistake. In this case you may want to protect whoever it was that made the mistake.
  • To describe a situation where the actor is unknown – There are times when you simply don’t know who performed the action. We were watching tv in the living room when a rock was thrown through the window.

Improve Your Writing

You should strive to use active voice as much as you can in your writing, unless there’s a good reason to use the passive voice. Writing with the active voice is stronger, more direct, and uses fewer words. It’s ok to use the passive voice, but ideally you should have a good reason since it will weaken your sentence.

Visitors to your site can leave just as quickly as they arrived. Give them a reason to stay by writing with an active voice.

Resources

Active and Passive Voice
Think Active
Practice Using Active Voice
How To Use Active Voice To Build Trust
Make It Simple, Make It Active

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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