If you’ve ever read government, corporate or academic reports, you’ve probably seen plenty of passive writing. With passive voice, an action is done to something or someone, but we don’t know who did it, so we can’t see the action happening. For example:
The new rules were implemented, and an opinion survey was conducted.
The system was disabled before the improvements were made.
Passive voice creates distance from the reader in both time and space. It immediately raises the questions: Who did it? Who is responsible?
Passive voice also typically relies on weak verbs. This slows down and muddies the writing because strong verbs provide the engine of action within a sentence.
In addition, passive voice gets in the way of specific details that make writing come alive.
That’s why it’s important to avoid passive voice in your writing. The more you become aware of it, the more easily you can correct it.
For instance, you might review your writing and find a passive sentence like this:
The guests were greeted warmly with hugs and words of welcome.
Immediately, your passive-voice radar alert would go off, and you’d rework the sentence to something stronger and more visual, like this:
Jane hugged her guests as they stepped in from the cold. “Welcome,” she said. “I’m so glad you could come.”
Now we know who was greeting her guests, and the specific words and actions create a scene that we can see, hear and feel. That’s the power of active voice.
For practice, convert these sentences from passive to active:
- The obituary was written, and the funeral was planned.
- The gifts were opened, and wrapping paper was strewn over the living room floor.
- She was placed on the gurney and wheeled to the ambulance.
- Flowers were placed on the table next to the bed.
Make it a practice to thoroughly search your writing for passive-voice sentences and convert them to active voice. You’ll be surprised how much this single step will strengthen and enliven your writing.