One of the easiest ways to improve your writing is to ensure that you are writing in active voice.

Active voice means that the subject (usually a noun or noun phrase) comes before the predicate (the verb or verb clause). Another way to say it is that the subject performs the action instead of receiving the action. Improving your writing this way seems so simple and obvious, yet many people don’t do it.

For example:

I gained a lot of knowledge from that writing class.

That’s active. The subject (I) comes before the verb (gained), and the object follows.

And here’s the passive version:

A lot of knowledge was gained in that writing class.

In this passive sentence, the object of the verb, which is the thing that was gained (knowledge) comes before the verbs (was gained), and no one knows who the subject is.

(By the way, if you don’t want people to know who the subject is, that’s a good time to use passive voice intentionally and successfully.)

Why Should You Write in Active Voice?

As I just mentioned, writing in passive voice can cause confusion. Passive voice doesn’t always create a clear subject-verb-object relationship, which makes it harder to follow. But are there other reasons you should use it?

Yes, there is one major reason: Writing in active voice is important because it makes your writing easier to read. It makes your writing sound stronger and more forceful. It’s about impact. When you write in active voice, your writing packs a lot more punch.

Now, Let’s Analyze That Sentence

You may notice that the last sentence in the paragraph above is written in active voice. The sentence contains two phrases connected by a comma, and each phrase has a subject and verb. The first subject (you) precedes the first verb (write) and the next subject (your writing) precedes the next verb (packs).

Now, for fun, let me write that same sentence in passive voice to show you the difference:

When active voice is used, there is a lot more punch in your writing.

Compare that with the original that we first read:

When you write in active voice, your writing packs a lot more punch.

Can you feel the vitality of the second sentence compared with the passive one above? Do you see how using non-active construction creates a weaker-sounding sentence?

You want to have an actor (you/your writing) doing the action. You wrote, and your writing packed a punch. 

So, when you go through your writing, try to flip sentences around to make them more active whenever possible. Of course, as I mentioned, there are times when passive construction is more appropriate (like if you’re writing a mystery or purposefully being vague), but generally speaking, active voice is better.

As part of that reworking, ensure your verbs are simple and strong, combining multiple words into a single impactful verb when possible.

Happy editing!

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Sydney Spencer