As you learn about compositions, it’s plain to see that writing in the passive voice should be avoided wherever possible. Active voice immediately identifies both the action and who or what is performing the action, adding clarity and precision to your words.
Here’s an example of passive voice: The dog was walked by Marie.
Here’s an example of active voice: Marie walked the dog.
See how the second example got straight to the point and minced no words?
Scanning your writing for any errant sentences written in the passive voice is a good habit to get into. Below, you’ll find some active writing tips and a short test to show you how to write in active voice, which will help you practice those healthy writing habits.
Four Simple Active Writing Tips
Remember the active voice will always add impact to your writing. The active voice makes it look like you are observing the action; that things are happening. A passive voice makes it appear that people or objects are just waiting for stuff to happen to them. The reader will be more engaged when the active voice is used.
These active writing tips will help you make your work easy to understand and coherent.
- Put the subject first. If you want to change passive sentences to active ones flip the sentence around so it's clear who is performing the action. This helps to reduce the number of words in the sentence too.
- Avoid the passive verb "to be." Overly complicated sentences with these additional helping verbs will slow down the reader. More streamlined sentences keep the flow going.
- Swap -ing for -ed. Gerunds and present participles (words ending in -ing) tend to be more passive than verbs ending in -ed.
- Go easy on the adverbs. While it might be more descriptive to say "quickly walked" or "freshly baked," too many adverbs and intensifiers are another surefire way to slow down your writing. If your verb isn't strong enough on its own, maybe choose a different one.
Don't forget to consider your audience. For example, clarity is the number one goal of business writing. Business writing, like memos, letters, resumes, etc, need to be written in an active voice that makes the sequence of events clear. However, scientific writing can be more passive.
Looking for a little more clarity on the difference between active and passive voice? Check out YourDictionary’s Active vs. Passive Voice Infographic for an easy-to-follow explanation.
Active and Passive Writing
When we talk we usually use the active voice, as it's quicker to say. You should get used to doing the same thing in your writing.
With the active voice, the subject of the sentence is clear. The passive voice is sometimes vague and awkward and changes the emphasis of the sentence to the person or thing receiving the action (the object). Since there are more words involved, it can make your writing sluggish and confusing, as in these examples:
- The cookies were made by my mom for the bake sale.
- The road was being paved by the construction crew.
Active sentences get to the point and put you right in the action, as you can see when the above passive sentences are rewritten in active voice:
- My mom made cookies for the bake sale.
- The construction crew paved the road.
If you want to nip the passive voice in the bud read through these Examples of Active and Passive Voice.
Sometimes, people will use the passive voice deliberately to cover up who performed the action or to be vague on purpose. For example:
- Rumors were spread.
- Miscalculations were made.
Mystery writers may use the passive voice to draw attention to an object rather than the possible criminal:
- The secret plans have been stolen!
Crime reports will also use the passive voice if the perpetrator is unknown or has not been officially identified:
- The store was robbed after closing, so no one witnessed the crime.
In scientific writing, reports are often preferred in passive voice as it helps to focus on the experiment or research and not on the person performing it:
- The solution was held over a bunsen burner for 1 minute.
Active Writing Test
Here is a quick test to help you know if you understand the difference between active and passive voice. Change these sentences that have a passive voice to sentences with an active voice.
- Italian pizza is eaten by many people.
- My cattle are being fed by Grandpa.
- Her new toy was broken by her brother.
- Our Christmas tree was decorated by the whole family.
- The snowman was melted by the warm sun.
- The roads were covered by the heavy snow.
- That movie was seen by millions of people.
- The vault was broken into by a clever cat burglar.
- Bombs were dropped over the island last night.
- The chocolate cake was baked by my aunt.
- Many people eat Italian pizza.
- Grandpa is feeding my cattle.
- Her brother broke her new toy.
- The whole family decorated our Christmas tree.
- The warm sun melted the snowman.
- The heavy snow covered the roads.
- Millions of people saw that movie.
- A clever cat burglar broke into the vault.
- Planes bombed the island last night.
- My aunt baked the chocolate cake.