Writing tip: Getting active

Posted on 23/02/2015 · Posted in Writing tips

Standing workstations, ten-minute office workouts, activity trackers, going on foot to reduce our carbon footprint…all of these initiatives help us to be more active.

Just as being active physically has great benefits, writing in the active voice also pays off. In a simple sentence in active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action stated by the verb, for example:

Lily [subject] wears an activity tracker [object].

In instructions and procedure-like documents, the active voice makes it clear who should do what, eliminating ambiguity about responsibilities. In writing that reports on an event, the active voice can be used to put the person or thing that causes the events in the foreground, shaping the reader’s opinions towards them. In general, writing in the active voice adds clarity and conciseness to your message and your chances of keeping a reader’s interest are better.

In a passive sentence, the subject receives the action and becomes the focus of the sentence. Usually ‘by’ is used to introduce the agent.  Mostly the agent could be left out:

An activity tracker [subject] is worn (by Lily [agent]).

Passive voice may be appropriate when it does not matter who the agent is, or when one action follows another as a matter of law and there is no actor. Because passive voice sentences necessarily add words and change the normal doer-action-receiver of action direction, they may make the reader work harder to understand the intended meaning. Therefore, if you do not have a particular reason for using the passive voice, rather try to formulate sentences in the active voice – activity tracker or no activity tracker!