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February 6, 2018 (Updated: March 8, 2023)
When was the last time someone questioned the voice of your writing? For most of us, even those in marketing and other roles where we write every day, it’s probably been a while. But if you haven’t questioned your voice choice, maybe it’s time to start. Using the active voice in content writing helps keep your readers engaged with the material. It also helps create the illusion of credibility and authority on the content topic. Today, we’re discussing why you and your team need to use the active voice in content with topics like:
Active voice is simply a type of sentence construction. In active voice, the subject of the sentences carries out the action of a verb. Though writing isn’t math, we still use formulas to show the makeup of sentences. An active voice sentence looks like this: Subject + Verb + Object. As a refresher, here’s the purpose of each part of an active sentence:
Active voice is the opposite of passive voice. In a passive voice sentence, the verb acts upon the subject. There is no “doer.” The subject of the sentence passively watches as the action happens around it. The construction of a passive voice sentence looks like this: Object + Verb + Subject.
To see the difference, let’s at the sentence: The bird flew across the lawn. Right now, this sentence is in the active voice. The bird is the subject, and it performs the action of flying. The lawn is the direct object because it answers the question, “flies where?” To write the sentence in passive voice, flip the construction. It now reads: The lawn was flown across by the bird.
Image via Unsplash by @bogomi
Active voice in content is more engaging for readers. As a brand, you want to keep readers interested in what you’re saying. Not only is it good for your SEO and web metrics, which look like little gold stars for your marketing team. Engagement is also good for developing bonds like trust and brand loyalty. When you build better bonds with your audience, you increase the chances of turning them into leads and paying clients.
Using active voice also helps with readability and user experience. With the sheer amount of information available online, you only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention with your words and visuals. If you’re bogging your content down with complex sentences and passive voice, people are going to leave. They’re going to go to another article where they don’t have to use as much brain power to understand the information. But when you use short, active voice sentences, you’re providing what they need as quickly as possible. Other reasons to use active voice in content include:
Related: Why Active and Passive Voice Matter in Your Content
There is never a wrong time to use the active voice in your content. Readers and writers alike prefer it to the passive voice. Using it in the first sentence of your opening paragraph in content, or as the single-line caption of a social media post helps capture your audience’s attention. It also sets a clear direction and tone for the rest of the piece.
Using the active voice in your content matters, but it’s more important to make sure you’re using it along with your unique brand voice in all your content. Active voice is better than passive for a number of reasons we already stated. But you shouldn’t sacrifice the natural way you talk to your audience just to put every sentence into active voice.
Sometimes passive voice is acceptable, especially in journalistic and academic writing. Sometimes the subject of the sentence isn’t the most important focus. Making these decisions comes down to the leadership of your marketing department. It also comes from fully understanding your own brand voice and what’s going to sound natural to your audience and leads. Being grammatically correct isn’t as important as being and sounding authentic to those reading or watching your content.
Related: Your Brand’s Voice: Why It Matters and 10 Questions To Help Develop It
If you’re looking to boost your content quality, follow these steps to check for passive voice in your pieces and learn how to change them to the active voice construction:
The fastest way to tell if a sentence is in active or passive voice is to find the subject and see if it’s performing an action. If it is, the sentence is in the active voice. If the action is working on the subject, the sentence is in the passive voice. Look at the sentence, Jake jumped over the fence. This sentence is in active voice because Jake is completing the action of jumping.
If the sentence doesn’t have a subject at all, that’s another indicator it’s in passive voice. Using this type of sentence is bad practice anyway because it can confuse your audience if they don’t make the leap with you from sentence to sentence based on context clues.
For example, look at the sentence, The ball was kicked over the wall. The action is “kicked,” but we don’t know who’s doing the kicking. This sentence is actually grammatically correct in the passive voice, but without additional context, it could confuse your audience and cause them to click away. You could add a subject and change the sentence to read, Deja kicked the ball over the wall to turn it into the active voice.
Helping or linking verbs in a sentence also indicate passive voice. These short verbs come before the main verb in the sentence. Examples include words like “am,” “is,” “was,” “were,” “do,” “has,” and “be.” For example, in the sentence, The car was driven by Roman, the word “was” is the helping verb for “drive.” It’s in passive voice. To change it to active, remove the helping verb and flip the subject and object. Now the sentence reads, Roman drove the car.
Look at the sentence from the last example again: The car was driven by Roman. That little word “by” is another indicator that a sentence is in passive voice. In this construction, “by” often comes before the subject. This is actually helpful for turning passive sentences into active ones. The word “by” points you right to the subject and tells you what pieces of the sentence to flip.
Reading your sentences out loud is a great way to see how natural your writing sounds. Active voice is often easier to read out loud compared to passive voice. That’s because active voice statements are more straightforward and to the point. They don’t use excess words, which creates more complex sentences that cause you to trip over your words or lose your place. 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. Then take the necessary steps to fix what isn’t working.
There’s a reason marketing departments work in teams. The more eyes you have on a piece of content before you publish it, the better. Get your writers, editors, and publication specialists to give your content the once-over before it goes live. These professionals can help you catch instances of passive voice, along with other grammatical or flow errors, and adjust accordingly.
Use these comparison examples of active vs. passive voice sentences to help you spot potential clunkiness in your brand materials and make them more readable and accessible to your audience
Active: Ed wrote a blog post for our campaign. Passive: The blog post for our campaign was written by Ed.
Active: Nevaeh closed the deal with a new client. Passive: A new client resulted from a deal that was closed by Nevaeh.
Active: Mac submitted the report. Passive: The report was submitted by Mac.
Active: Maverick signed a new contract with the company. Passive: A new company contract was signed by Maverick.
Active: Tia created the SEO reports. Passive: The SEO reports were created by Tia.
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