Write in the Active Voice

I’ve been writing a lot at work recently. It’s challenging, but I’m learning a lot. I keep Bryan Garner’s Legal Writing in Plain English on my desk and refer to it often. One of his many tips is to write in the active voice. I’ve made a point to do so, and it has made a difference in my writing. Below is Garner’s explanation about the active voice along with a helpful video:

In an active-voice construction, the subject does something (The court dismissed the appeal.) In a passive-voice construction, something is done to the subject (The appeal was dismissed by the court.).

The active voice typically has four advantages over the passive:

  • It usually requires fewer words.
  • It better reflects a chronologically ordered sequence, (ACTIVE: actor, action, recipient of action), as opposed to the reverse (PASSVE: recipient of action, action, actor).
  • It makes the reading easier because its syntax meets the English speaker’s default expectation that the subject of a sentence will perform the action of the verb.
  • It makes the writing more vigorous and lively (John wrote to the company as opposed to The company was written by John).