The Importance of Active Voice in Content

When writing marketing content, you may hear terms used such as active and passive voice. While you might have heard how vital active voice is for marketing content, you may find yourself asking what active voice is. Why is it so important, and more importantly, how can I use it?

What is Active Voice?

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When writing, your sentences will form what is either called passive voice or active voice. The primary difference between the two is the word order, which makes the subject of the sentence either actively performing the verb or inaccurately presents the subject as a direct object. Whether the voice is passive or active will wholly depend on the relationship between the subject of the sentence and the verb used. To illustrate the point an example of passive voice would be,

“The rabbit is being chased by the dog.”

The subject, the dog, is performing the action, but this sentence is phrased as though it’s begin acted upon. An example of the same sentence worded in the active voice would be:

“The dog chased the rabbit.”

In this sentence, it is clear that the dog is performing the action.

Why do Many Writers Write in Passive Voice?

Authors get into the habit of using passive voice because it is the most common type of voice use used in academic writing. Academic writing typically refers to active language as more simplistic and finds it less effective at highlighting the important participant in the sentence, which, although counterintuitive, is not always the subject.

Passive voice can help to add more description and help a writer develop the subject more in-depth. In active writing, the action becomes more important than the performer of the action, which is inconsistent with the goal of most academic papers. Using passive voice in academic papers is also more acceptable because the word counts are significantly longer and meant to be read by peers that will be spending a long time reading the piece. Unfortunately, passive voice can often dilute the action in the content, which causes more difficulty for the reader when used in shorter marketing pieces.

Why is Active Voice Important in Content?

Now that we have established what active voice is, you may be wondering why active voice is so important in content marketing. When writing marketing content, you will want to utilize active voice as often as possible. Using active voice in content marketing helps to:

  • Engage – Action verbs and active voice help the reader get into the story and directly engages with the reader.
  • Readability – Active language and phrases are easier to read than passive verbiage, especially for those whose first language is not English.
  • Persuade – All content is created with the purpose of calling the reader to action, either by doing business with your company or sharing your content. Using action verbs and active language makes your writing persuasive and engaging.
  • Momentum – When you write in passive voice, your content becomes drawn out and less exciting to read. By using active language throughout your content, you will keep your readers from scrolling to the end of the article or leaving the page.
  • Connect – Web content is meant to provide information in a way that is quick and easy to digest. Consistently using passive language can cause articles and posts to sound more academic, sometimes to the point of alienating readers.

Incorporating Active Voice in Your Content

Active voice is essential to creating dynamic online content, so naturally, the next step is to incorporate more active language in your content. Although one of the easiest ways to identify active and passive language is by reading your content out loud, there are specific things that you can look for that can help you quickly identify and revise passive language.

Make Sure the Subject is Performing the Action

One of the quickest ways to identify and change passive to active language is by making sure that the subject is performing the action in the sentence. In a passive sentence, the subject will have the action being performed on them instead of acting as a participant in the sentence. When you notice this kind of passive voice, you can often flip the subject with the direct object and remove the helping verb to make the subject become the active participant. For example, you can change “The fish was caught by the man,” to “The man caught the fish,” simply by switching the subject and the direct object.

Watch Out for Helping Verbs

Passive voice often contains helping verbs like am, is, are, was and were, being, been, and be, have, has had, do, does, did, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must, can, and could. While these verbs do not always have to change, if you notice them in your content, you will want to read the sentence to see if it is creating passive voice. Sometimes simply eliminating the helping verb can turn a passive phrase into an active one.

Read the Sentence Aloud to Check Readability

Sentences that use active language are easier to read. Trust your ear: if you are reading the information aloud and it sounds awkward, it’s probably using passive voice.

Make Sure You Understand Who is Performing the Action

When checking a sentence for active language, you should be able to easily identify who or what the subject is and what action is being performed. If it’s unclear which noun is performing the verb, the sentence is probably written passively. To change to the active voice, rethink the sentence so that the subject and the action they are performing is apparent.

Using active voice in your content will increase readability, provide better customer engagement, and promote action and interaction with your website. Being able to identify both active and passive voice and knowing the steps you can follow to change them is an essential part of content marketing training, Try the tips above to help your content get active and get the viewers you need.

About the author

Melissa Furreura