Better Writing: Avoiding Passive Voice

It is a good idea for freelance writers to avoid passive voice. Writers should not think that using passive voice is a grammatical error, but using active voice makes for better writing most of the time.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice is the phrase used to describe sentences in which the subject receives the action of the verb rather than the subject performing the action. For example:

The man was slapped by the woman.

That same sentence written in active voice would read:

The woman slapped the man.

Another example of passive voice is in a sentence where there is no specific subject performing the action.

eg. Research was conducted.

What is wrong with writing in passive voice?

Writing in passive voice is considered a stylistic “don’t.” While it is not necessarily a grammatical error, passive voice can sound awkward, leave out important details, and reduce the authority of a sentence.

Consider the following.

How can I avoid writing in passive voice?

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Simple–yet so difficult! Nice post…it is a really important thing for writers to master!

  2. I’ve consistently found that new writers actually default to the passive voice. I think that, to some, it sounds smoother or more… I don’t know “high fallutin'” or something, and that’s because we don’t generally SPEAK that way.

    So, another way to state this might be to write how you speak.

  3. I would love, love, love it if you could have a link to Feedburner or Feedblitz so I could receive notices of your updates. Great blog.

  4. I have been writing for 6 years and have always thought of the passive voice as a big NO. When I hire new writers for my team, I also find they tend to write in a passive voice. I too agree that writing in active voice makes for better writing.
    Thanks for the great post, Melanie

  5. hi, i am a freelance trainer in bangladesh. i am eager to exchange views with you. this is just to start the discussion. hope to hear from you. tks, yakub

  6. Your blog is a fabulous resource. Found you on ezinearticles

  7. One little habit that helps me: I axe from my copy any form of the verb to be. I cut is, was, been, had been,etc., and plunk in a more vigorous verb. Presto, active voice!

  8. Great article and a great tip from Lorraine! She makes it easy to ensure active is used.

  9. I started writing for Demand Studios a couple months ago and they flat out reject most writing in passive voice. Some things are extremely hard to say–for example, when the subject is unknown or intentionally undefined. Did you know that in the Hopi language, subjects don’t act on objects; best translated linguistically, everything only “happens”. It’s all passive.

    • That’s very interesting, about the Hopi language. I did not know that. Thanks for sharing!

  10. This is actually one of the improved content articles with those that I’ve got read more this particular subject nowadays. Excellent function.

  11. Wonderful piece of writing, well crafted I must say.

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