Better writer tip #2: Use the active voice to improve your writing style

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 08/06/2014

Writing in the active voice means constructing sentences where the subject performs the action of the verb. It is used when you want your writing to be clear, direct and easy to read. For example:

“ABC Construction built the road.”

‘ABC Construction’ is the subject and performs the action of the verb, in this case, ‘built’. The equivalent passive sentence is:

“The road was built by ABC Construction.”

So, why is the active voice important?

Sentences in the active voice are more direct, often shorter, and to the point, so the reader is less likely to switch off halfway through. The active voice is a more stylish than the passive voice, and works best in tenders, proposals and marketing communications.

A simple example is:

Passive: his tender is being submitted by ABC Construction.

Active: ABC Construction is submitting our tender.

In short, complex, passive constructions diminish the intensity of the communication by leading the reader on a wild goose chase for the salient information.

The active voice also makes documents stronger by showing responsibility or giving credit for an action. When we avoid showing responsibility in our writing, we don't give enough information to explain the problem and how to fix it.

In summary, use the active voice:

  • When you want your writing to be clear, direct and easy to read
  • For firm, straightforward writing; your readers will know where they stand
  • In your tenders and proposals: the reader is less likely to switch off.

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