Go to any writing conference or eavesdrop on any writer’s critique group (both great things for the practicing writer, by the way) and if you hang around long enough, the subject of passive writing will be discussed—and usually with the same conclusion:
It’s bad. To-be-avoided-at-almost-any-cost bad.
Well, you won’t get any argument from me that writing in passive voice is best avoided. But how do you avoid it if you’re not sure what it is?
Active voiceIn an active sentence, the subject performs the action.
- Example 1: Linda dances the samba.
- Example 2: Bill Withers sings Lean On Me.
Passive voicePassive voice gets it backward, making the object of the sentence into the subject.
- Example 1: The samba is danced by Linda.
- Example 2: Lean On Me is sung by Bill Withers.
Prefer the activeMost times, active voice is better. Why? Several reasons:
- Active voice sentences use fewer words. “Linda dances the samba” is four words. “The samba is danced by Linda” is six.
- Who wants to use weak words? Words like is/am/are/was/were/being/been, etc., are dull. Strong writing includes concrete nouns, powerful verbs, and vivid adjectives.
- No one likes confusion. Passive voice is often confusing or unclear.