Active Voice vs. Passive Voice -- When Each One Is More Appropriate


If you read a lot of online content, you’ve been introduced to the wonders of the active voice. Using active voice is effective online and in many aspects of professional writing, including email, memos, reports, presentations, and operations manuals. Both active and passive voice  have their place in modern communication, however. They key difference is the emphasis: active voice focuses on the actor while passive voice highlights the object acted upon.

Advantages of the Active Voice

The online and business audience have much in common, including moving (or reading) quickly and dealing with frequent distractions. The active voice

  • Emphasizes the doer or actor
  • Tells you who is doing what
  • Is action-oriented
  • Is energizing and exciting
  • Provides momentum and motivation
  • Is succinct, as it gets to the point with no extra words
  • Is clear and unambiguous
  • Is easy to read and understand quickly
Advantages of the Passive Voice

Use passive voice when your goal is to

  • Emphasize the object that was acted upon. For example, "The diamond jewels were stolen." (We don't know by whom.)
  • Indicating objectivity or impartiality in scientific writing . Many style guides for science writers advise the passive; for instance, "The medication was given to the study subjects." Using active voice also works. This phrase is active, even though the subject isn't a person: "The results indicate…" The proper voice here may depend upon the publisher or editor’s guidance.

Keep in mind, however, that passive voice is wordier than active and therefore may be more difficult to read and understand.

For more information on using active and passive voice in your writing, contact Hurley Write, Inc .