Grammar

Active Voice or Passive Voice? Why Active’s Usually Better

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Do you more often write in active voice or passive voice? The choice you make can have a big impact on how readers enjoy your writing.

I consider active voice and passive voice every time I write a blog post. And as I focus on improving SEO, there’s a good reason for that. (More on that in a moment.)

The first question is the obvious one.

What’s the difference?

Grammarly explains it quite nicely: “Active voice means that a sentence has a subject that acts upon its verb. Passive voice means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action.”

But we can make it a bit more clear.

I’ll give you a few examples of each:

  • The doctor told the patient to drink plenty of fluids.
  • The salesman reduced the price of the car by $10,000.
  • The customer bought the lottery ticket.

In each case, you have a subject (the doctor, the salesman or the customer) taking action (telling, reducing or buying) on or toward something.

Now I’ll give you the same sentences in their passive voice alternatives:

  • The patient was told by the doctor to drink plenty of fluids.
  • The price of the car was reduced by $10,000 by the salesman.
  • The lottery ticket was bought by the customer.

In these examples, the object of the action is acted upon by the subject.

I hope you also notice that the passive sentences usually require at least one additional word and it’s usually some form of a helping verb like is, has or was.

Why active voice is better

As I showed you, active usually means slightly fewer words. So when you write in that voice, you’re writing more concisely.

YourDictionary.com says it even adds impact to your writing:

This is the most straightforward way to present your ideas, because it creates a clear image in the reader’s mind of who is doing what. This makes your writing much easier to understand, which is why good writers prefer the active voice.

There’s another reason I pay attention to active voice. I use a plugin called Yoast for SEO. The term SEO stands for search engine optimization. That means the effort to ensure that you compose your content so that it ranks high in search results.

Yoast watches a variety of things as you write. One of those things is voice. If you compose a post with more than 10% active voice, it alerts you with a “red light.” If you restructure passive sentences into active ones, it gets happy again and the red light goes green.

Is 10% really the “perfect” amount of passive voice that you want to limit yourself to? Not necessarily. But the component of Yoast SEO that focuses on passive voice is the “readability” section. That implies that a lot of passive voice makes your writing less readable.

It may not have a direct impact on your SEO, but at the same time, it may make your content less readable, which is still not helping your efforts.

However, I don’t mean to say passive voice is always bad. The University of Wisconsin in Madison lists five reasons it can work well.

Therefore, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only one. But you should stay aware of whether you’re using active or passive. And if you realize there’s too much passive without good reason, you should consider changing some of it.

Do you ever think about which voice you’re writing in?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.