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  • Writer's pictureDan Purdy

Active vs. Passive Voice - A Guide for Content Writers

My first major client in the technical writing field gave me the initial piece of what would eventually become my writing voice soapbox.

Every round of edits, they'd highlight all the sentences that I had naturally and unconsciously written in the passive voice and request that I switch them around to the active voice. "It's stronger and more confident," they said.

Well, after much practice, I have to say I agree. So, let's take a moment to look at these two writing voices, and when they're appropriate to use with a particular focus on professional content writing.

What is Passive Voice?

In its base form, the passive voice has a verb acting on the subject. Take a look at the examples below:

  • The website was built by the designer.

  • The drinks were served by the waiter.

See that the two verbs (built and served) come before the subjects (designer and waiter)? These are classic characteristics of the passive voice.

Also, notice that the verbs in the passive voice are in their past participle configuration. Again, this is the hallmark of passive writing because we're not quite writing in the past tense, but we're still using verbs in their past form. Now let's take a look at the active voice.

What is Active Voice?

As you'd expect, the active voice is the exact opposite of passive, where the sentence subject performs the action or verb.

  • The designer builds the website.

  • The waiter serves the drinks.

Just remember, if your subject is doing something, then you're writing in the active voice. The active voice is all about using the present tense while performing an action, and this present action is its greatest asset to content writers.

When to Use Them

Now that we know what the active and passive voices are, let's dive into when and how to use them for your digital content.

Using Active Voice

You can't go wrong by using the active voice. The present and firm structure, along with crystal clear flow, make this sentence structure a professional content writer's best friend.

Also, take another look at the active and passive examples above. Notice that the two passive examples use seven words while the active sentences only use five? Every content writer out there knows the value of keeping their writing tight and clear, and the active voice is your avenue to achieve that goal.

Now that's not to say that the passive voice has absolutely no place in blog writing. Far from it!

Using Passive Voice

My work for our professional writing service at BestDraft allows me to wear two hats in my writing and editing roles. Therefore, I'll be examining the passive voice from both perspectives.

As a writer, I believe that the passive voice has a place in professional content writing, but the circumstances are much more selective.

Let's again refer to our example sentences above. If your narrative's primary subject was the drinks or website, then the passive voice may be appropriate as it keeps those items in the spotlight.

Other times, the passive voice just works. It fits your writing flow and dynamic, get's the point across, and matches the tone that you want. Your target audience may also play a role in this decision; remember to think about who will be reading your content. So, don't be afraid to use the passive voice when the time is right!

Now, as an editor, let me add that overusing the passive voice becomes distracting very quickly. The constant past participles and indirect connections to your subjects can quickly muddy the waters of your writing. So my advice to professional content writers out there is to be judicious in using the passive voice. It has its place in our work, but when in doubt, use the active voice.

Realize what the active and passive voices are, know their strengths, and be discerning in your writing. Remember these points, and you're on your way to fantastic content!


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