Generally, it’s a bad idea to use the passive voice when writing. I’ve found that I use the passive voice way too often, and I’ve had to really focus on changing that.
You’re makin’ me think too hard
“But what is the passive voice?” you ask. Passive voice is a grammatical construction where, according to dictionary.com, “the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb.” For example, in the sentence “The cake was eaten by the dog,” the cake is the subject that’s receiving the action “was eaten”. This sentence is in the passive voice.
When we use the passive voice, it means that our writing is often wordier and seems detached or aloof. The reader is required to put more effort into thinking about the sentence in order to correctly understand it. With passive voice, the reader doesn’t know who or what took the action until they get to the end of the sentence. It’s very different from how we usually talk or make sense of events. All of this means there’s a greater chance we’ll be misunderstood, and as writers or bloggers, that’s the last thing we want.
Active voice: clear and concise
On the other hand, the “active voice” is consistent and logical. Sentences written in the active voice are usually shorter and more assertive. They also require less brainpower to interpret, and although they might lack formality, they deliver clarity.
Yoast SEO (“the #1 WordPress SEO Plug-in”) recommends using the active voice for the majority of our blogging and only using the passive voice in 10% or less of our writing.
Having said this, I need to note that there are exceptions:
- If the “actor” in the sentence is unknown or irrelevant, it’s OK (and makes more sense) to use the passive voice. When the actor and receiver are switched around, because the actor isn’t (or can’t) be identified, using the passive voice makes more sense for the reader.
- When you want to focus on the receiver, then it also makes sense to use the passive voice. This works when the object is more central to the subject then the actor. For example: “Joan d’Arc was burnt at the stake on May 30, 1431 by the English.” Passive voice works best here.
When you’ve finished your article or blog post, scan it for the passive voice. If you find it, see if there’s a better way to express that thought by using the active voice. If there is, change it. Your audience will appreciate it because readers typically prefer articles that provide useful, unique, and engaging information. Using the active voice will improve your writing, and it could boost your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) as well. Win-win for everybody.
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About the author
I developed Image and Aspect because I believe that professionals need to have an impactful web presence. One that showcases their unique talents, skills, and abilities as well as their values and style. A presence that focuses on social engagement and connection.
I’m passionate about what I do; I like helping fellow humans, I like having all kinds of social connection with others, and I want to give back, to make the world a better place.
I do much of the designing and coding myself, and I also have a wonderful network of professionals that may contribute as well; photographers, copywriters, branding experts.
I love designing and coding beautiful, elegant and responsive web creations. I ALSO teach and help others who want to learn how to do it themselves.
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Diane M. Metcalf, M.S.