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The Importance of Active Voice in Content

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Published: February 6, 2018 (Updated: January 27, 2022)

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Using active voice is important in content writing. Not only can it help you keep your readers engaged with the material, but it also develops authority on the subject you’re talking about. Writing in the active voice might seem like a tricky task your high school English teacher would ask of you, but once you understand it, it’s very easy. In this guide, we discuss what active voice is, what passive voice is, and the importance of using active voice when you’re creating content.

What Is Active Voice?

Active voice is the process of writing a sentence where the subject of the sentence carries out the action of the verb. The makeup of an active sentence is Subject + Verb + Object. To help you understand that a little better, let’s look at the different parts of a sentence:

  • Subject: The subject of the sentence is the doer. They are the ones performing the action, or the verb.
  • Verb: The verb, also known as the predicate, is the action. It’s the activity the subject is performing.
  • Direct object: The direct object is the recipient of the verb. If you’re not sure whether a sentence has a direct object, try asking what or whom the verb affects.
  • Indirect object: The indirect object is someone or something that is affected by the verb, but is not the primary object. If you’re trying to find the indirect object, consider asking to whom, to what, for whom, or for what the verb is affecting.

Now that the English lesson is out of the way, let’s take a better look at active voice. An example of a sentence in active voice is: Jerry (subject) feeds (verb) the dog (direct object). If you wrote the sentence differently, it would either be grammatically incorrect or a passive sentence. For example, The dog (object) was fed (verb) by Jerry (subject) is an example of a passive sentence.

What Is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is the opposite of active voice. Instead of the subject performing the verb, the verb acts on the subject. In simpler terms, the makeup of the sentence is Object + Verb + Subject. For instance, look at the sentence The bird flew across the lawn. This sentence is in active voice. The subject, the bird, performs the action of flying across the lawn, the object. To write this in a passive voice, you simply switch the subject and the object. So now, the sentence reads, The lawn was flown across by the bird.

Difference Between Passive Voice and Past Tense

Though past tense statements can sound a lot like passive voice, they’re not the same thing. You can use past tense to write in the active voice, as long as you follow the makeup for that sentence. For example, the sentence< I ate a muffin this morning is still in active voice, even though it happened in the past. The same sentence in passive voice looks like this: This morning, a muffin is what I ate. You can also write passive statements in the present or future tense.

Why Is Active Voice Important?

Active voice is helpful in content writing for several reasons, including:

Using Fewer Words

An active voice sentence will always use fewer words than a passive voice sentence. Passive voice sentences often require additional words, such as “was,” “by,” and “be,” to ensure the statement makes sense. For instance, the sentence The trash was taken out by Iman is written in passive voice and uses more words than the active voice version: Iman took out the trash. Active voice gets to the point to help the reader understand the sentence right away.

Becoming Easier to Read

Because active voice gets to the point with fewer words, it’s also easier to read. Instead of complex sentences that force the reader to interpret the meaning, the active voice gives short, direct statements. For example, She read five books this summer is a lot easier to understand than, This summer, there were five books read by her.

Sounding More Authoritative

When you write in an active voice, it helps you seem more authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject you’re discussing. That’s because an active voice sounds more direct. It allows you to give a straightforward delivery that delivers the reader helpful information. For example, let’s say a company created an advertisement. Instead of writing: You will be given free shipping and high-quality products by us, you could write: We provide free shipping and high-quality products.

Creating Momentum

Writing in active voice creates momentum that helps keep your readers engaged for the duration of the content. When you use passive voice, it’s possible that the content can become drawn out and less exciting to read. Using active voice helps the readers stay on the page and increases your rate of conversion. That means they might interact with your website even more by reading more articles, signing up for a newsletter, or buying a product.

Why Is Active Voice Good for Content Marketing?

When you use active voice in content marketing, it helps make your content more engaging for your readers. Passive voice can sometimes feel like you’re reading an educational essay. This might turn readers away from your work and seek content that’s more readable. Whether you’re creating direct marketing like ads and copy, or indirect marketing materials such as blogs and articles, using active voice helps to capture and hold your audience’s attention. It’s also helpful because it delivers information quickly and easily.

When someone clicks on your content, they might have a question that needs answering. You don’t want to bog them down with fluff or complex sentences. Giving them the information right away helps to increase their satisfaction. It also encourages them to turn to your content more often when they have additional questions.

How To Spot and Fix Passive Voice

Here is a list of steps to help you check for the passive voice in your content and correct it:

1. Check the Subject

The fastest way to make sure you’re using active voice in your content is to check if the subject is performing the action. If the subject isn’t performing the action, your sentence may be in passive voice. For instance, Jake jumped over the fence is in the active voice. Jake, the subject, is performing the action of jumping over the object, the fence. If you wrote the sentence as: The fence was jumped over by Jake, the subject is now at the end of the sentence, making it passive.

It’s also possible that some passive statements might not have a subject at all. If you see a sentence that doesn’t have a clear subject, it might be beneficial to rewrite it for clarity. For example, look at the statement The ball was kicked over the wall. The verb or action of that sentence is “kicked,” but who’s performing it? The sentence is still grammatically correct, but the subject needs to be inferred.

2. Watch for Helping Verbs

A helping verb is a verb that comes before the main verb or action in a sentence. Statements you write in passive voice always use helping verbs to make sure the sentence is understandable. Helping verbs include:

  • was, were
  • am, is, are
  • do, does, did
  • have, has, had
  • be, been, being
  • may, can, must, might
  • should, would, could
  • shall, will

When creating content, if you notice some sentences use helping verbs, examine them more closely. It’s possible that those helping verbs create passive voice in your blogs or articles. For example, in the sentence The car was driven by Roman, the word “was” is helping the verb “drive.” This sentence is also an example of passive voice. When you remove the word “was” and flip the subject and the object, you can rewrite the statement in active voice: Roman drove the car.

3. Look for the Word “By”

As we see from the above example, The car was driven by Roman, you can also use the word “by” to search for passive sentences. Most often, in passive statements, the word “by” comes before the subject. That means you can easily identify the subject and fix the sentence. Using another example, in the statement Free shipping is being offered by the company, the subject, “the company” comes after the word “by.” To fix the sentence, you just need to put “the company” at the beginning: The company offers free shipping.

4. Read the Sentences Aloud

Reading your sentences out loud is a great way to see how natural your writing sounds. Active voice is often easier to read verbally compared to passive voice. That’s because active voice statements are more straightforward and to the point. They don’t use excess words, which can create more complex sentences that are difficult to read. When you read your writing aloud, trust your ear. If something doesn’t sound right, check your writing to see if it’s active or passive voice.

5. Ask for Help

If you’re developing a small amount of content for your business, consider asking someone else to read it. Having another reader look over your content before posting it can help you catch instances of passive voice, as well as grammatical errors. But if your company is creating a lot of content, it can be difficult to find someone to read all of it. In that case, it’s helpful to turn to a content marketing agency, like CopyPress, to help you.

CopyPress has the tools to help you develop powerful content that’s always written with an active, engaging voice. Not only do we have a team of talented writers and editors to create your content for you, but we also have the software and the experts to help you develop a winning content marketing strategy. Start with our new content marketing analysis tool, offered for a limited time without charge. Learn where you stand against your competitors. After you look it over, schedule a call with us. We’d love to discuss it with you!

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Why Do Some Writers Use Passive Voice?

Though the active voice is more concise than passive voice, some writers might still decide to use passive voice, depending on the situation. It is still grammatically correct, after all. Some of the main reasons someone might use passive voice in content include:

  • Different content: One of the biggest reasons writers use passive voice is to sound more educated. That’s why you sometimes find the passive voice in more academic writing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
  • Client request: If you’re creating content for a client, it’s possible they might request that you write their content in passive voice. Whether they want their content to sound more academic or they just prefer the tone of it, they might prefer the passive voice over the active.
  • Change in tone: Though active voice often sounds more conversational, sometimes it can come across as forceful or abrupt. If you want to change the pacing and tone of your content, you could add some passive voice statements throughout your content.

When you use an active voice in your content, you create blogs and articles that are more engaging to your readers. You also make your content easier to read and understand. Whether you’re just creating written content for your business, or you already have a well-established website, writing in active voice can help boost your conversion rate and increase your brand loyalty.

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