Passive Voice and Active Voice in Your Writing

writer, writing, hard work, passive voiceA variety of writing styles are available to you as a writer/author. At one end of the scale is the literary style that tends to ramble along, painting pictures with words chosen more for their emotional impact than their grammatical efficiency. At the other end is the hard-hitting journalistic style designed to convey information quickly and precisely. In between are a sliding-scale mix of these two. Plain Language writing is a style gaining popularity with the modern world.

In Plain Language writing you seek to keep to the active voice, keep your sentences short, and keep your words simple and direct. Basically you are to write like a Dick and Jane reading primmer.

Personally, I don’t like it for most of my work.  I use it in some of my instructive-nonfiction (which needs to read like an instruction manual – because it is).  For most of my general writing I employ a more literary style — without actually going literary on my readers.  Editors (and readers) often praise my style as “comfortable” and “engaging”.

However, our modern society: driven by social media, is demanding short, easy to read pieces that take no mental greatness to comprehend.  When I write for these less experienced readers I must lean more to the Plain Language style.

Identifying Passive Voice

Subject-Verb-Object = Active
The Principal made the announcement.

Object-Verb-Subject = Passive
The announcement was made by the Principal.

Object-Verb = Passive
The announcement came over the P.A..

Changing Passive Voice to Active Voice

Are your sentences 20 words or longer? The longer your sentences are, the easier it is to lapse into passive voice. Eliminate unnecessary words or re-write to split the sentence.

Who or what is the subject? The subject is the person or thing taking action in the sentence. The subject should be first. Ask: who does what?

What is the verb? The verb is the action being taken and will help identify the subject.

What is the object? The object is the focus of this sentence.  In the examples above: announcement.  If the sentence is passive the object will come first in this string of sentence elements.  Rewrite the sentence to follow the subject-verb-object order.

What if there is no subject? Sometimes, we do not know who did the what being discussed. If there is no subject you might have to leave this sentence in the passive voice, but try to identify who is responsible.

Keep Passive Voice sentences to 10% or less of the entire work to maintain Plain Language writing standards.

A Case in Point

My blogging platform has a Readability Analyzer.   The analyzer has the following to say about this article:

passive voice and readabilityTransition words or phrases take the reader by the hand and lead them from one sentence to the next.  My analyzer is afraid you (the reader) will fall off the trail and get lost.

The Fiesch Reading score does not like my use of high-brow words.

The rest is self-explanatory.

This one isn’t too bad: I get an overall readability score of “Good”.  Not “Great”, but “Good”.  Most of the time this thing beats me up pretty badly.  But I don’t write Dick and Jane books.









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