Is your writing in the active or passive voice?

Posted on 8 October 2015 by Emily Stella

 
Many of us drag the habit of writing in the passive voice from university to the workplace. However, in business writing you should prefer the active voice.

The difference between active and passive voices

The active voice is how most of us speak. It puts the person doing the action at the beginning of the sentence. The passive does the opposite and puts the person doing the action at the end of a sentence or leaves them out entirely.

The active voice
Agent before action

Attica won the award.

The passive voice
Action before agent

The award was won by Attica.

The active voice adds energy to your writing. It’s punchy, it makes it clear who’s doing what (so there’s no hiding), and pushes you to be more specific. It’s also shorter than the passive, so your sentences are more concise.

Examples

Passive: It is recommended that you hold a meeting every Monday morning.

Active: We recommend you hold a meeting every Monday morning.

Passive: The report will be finished by John tomorrow.

Active: John will finish the report tomorrow.

And a longer example:

Passive (100 words)

Dear Emily
There are several articles posted by me on LinkedIn about blended learning. It is the field I work in with TrainingCurve, which is an online platform that supports blended learning. With the growing popularity of blended learning, it might be of interest to you how TrainingCurve is specially designed to help trainers. A series of webinars that last 30 minutes have been set up as well as a live meeting in Cardiff to give more detail. Your attendance would be welcome at one of these events. Just check the dates underneath and click on a date to sign up!

Active (82 words)

Dear Emily
I posted several articles on LinkedIn about blended learning. I work in this field with a company called TrainingCurve, which is an online platform that supports blended learning. We’ve specially designed TrainingCurve to help trainers and you might be interested to learn more. I have set up a series of 30-minute webinars and a live meeting in Cardiff to give more detail. I would welcome your attendance at one of these events. Click on a date below to sign up!

(TrainingCurve is a fictional company.)

Exceptions

On occasion, the passive voice can be useful in your writing. It can be a great way to avoid assigning responsibility for something.

Mistakes were made.

The medical notes have been misplaced.

However, it’s best to avoid the following passive phrases in your business writing, which add an element of ambiguity.

passive phrases

Take a piece of your writing and assess whether it’s in the active or passive voice. As a final tip, if you look for words such as was or by in your sentences, you might find the passive voice.