Stunning adverbs and exotic adjectives never redeem a mediocre verb. Whenever I edit for web, I quickly notice a writer that relies on adjectives to the detriment of their overall sentence structure. I suppose this is a quick way to inject some flavor into a dull sentence.
The blood test was in the morning becomes The painful, serious blood test was in the early hours of the morning. Yet, the sentence has hardly improved. The sentence structure builds on passive voice and the colorful language doesn’t improve this fundamental flaw. If the writer flipped the subject of the sentence to create active voice, the entire sentence would improve.
What is Active Voice?
Example: Dana ate the ice cream.
When you write a sentence in active voice, the subject is the one doing the action expressed by the verb. Learning to write in active voice requires you to learn strong verbs.
Types of Action Verbs
- Examples of physical verbs include walk, open, jump and speak. These are all things that the object or agent can do in the physical space.
- Some mental verbs include concern, decide, doubt, and feel. These are often activities guided by the brain or emotions.
- Writers can also use linking verbs to describe a state of being such as, appear, grow, look, and remain.
If you search for lists of action verbs, you can find limitless posts and graphics to prompt and inspire.
What is Passive Voice?
Example: The ice cream was eaten by Dana.
When you write in passive voice, the subject is the person or thing that is acted upon. These sentences rely on a form of the verb be:
In general, this makes the sentence less concise. Often, people struggle to understand passive voice sentences.
Why Search Engines Prefer Active Voice
Search engines base their algorithm around answering questions. A user types a query and the search engine aims to serve up the most useful results. They favor websites that serve the user by answering the question posed by their query.
Generally, search engines prefer active voice because it affects readability. Website user behavior favors easy-to-read content. Search engines pick up on this behavior using several metrics such as:
- On-Page Time
- Bounce Rate
- Goal Completion
- Pages per visit
If your website doesn’t perform well on these metrics, search engines realize that your text is poorly written. In return, it will favor other website’s content.
Obviously, that’s a simplistic summary. The key takeaway is to write for humans. You need clear, easy-to-absorb language on every post and page of your site. Otherwise, people will leave your site and find the information elsewhere. (Sending signals to search engines that your website doesn’t meet user’s needs).
Because of this, there are many tools and websites that guide writers in identifying passive voice. Then, you have the opportunity to correct it.
When it is OK to use Passive Voice
Example: The bottle was left on the beach.
Passive voice is appropriate when you want to place emphasis on the act rather than the actor. You may also need to do it when the agent of the action is unknown. In news stories, journalists will use this for headlines (ex. Woman Attacked Near Park). For this situation, passive voice both creates a shorter headline and avoids specifics that the reporter may not be able to confirm.
Passive voice is for when the state does violence. Active voice is for when a protester does? Got it. https://t.co/2ror8Sen1K
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) May 31, 2020
Also, passive voice allows the writer to avoid placing responsibility. You see this in media coverage related to government, business and politics when it may be difficult to place blame on an individual or entity (or when the publication doesn’t want to place blame). In this case, passive voice makes the accusation less direct.
Finally, you may see passive voice in academic writing (particularly in Science and Technology fields).
How to Fix Passive Voice
Active Voice: John walked down the dirt road.
Passive Voice: The dirt road was walked upon by John.
You can fix passive voice sentence-by-sentence. Most of the time, you can simply flip the object and subject of your sentence. I suggest this frequently as I edit for my clients as a freelance writer in Lynchburg VA.
- Concise thoughts
- Quicker sentence pace
- Higher readability
Your readers will thank you for this small yet, essential shift.
- Active vs. Passive Voice by Grammarly
- On Active and Passive Voice by Merriam & Webster
- Active Versus Passive Voice by OWL
- The Passive Voice: What is it and how to avoid it? by Yoast
Freelance Writer in Lynchburg VA
I am a writer first. As a freelance writer in Lynchburg VA, I specialize in content-heavy websites, bringing together my 14 years of professional communication experience. I optimize small business websites for search and social media to generate more traffic — and more sales.
On my profiles, you’ll find creative inspiration for your small business. Whether you work a side hustle or run a full-time LLC, your online presence will benefit from my experience. My articles highlight advice and ideas to attract your niche audience.
Through Verderame, LLC. I offer my services to small businesses who need assistance with their websites, content, and search engine optimization.