On a different note to my regular diatribe, passive voice can also make your writing more concise, strangely enough, by removing unnecessary words, i.e. information that isn’t required to get the message across or are unimportant.
“John Doe was hit by a car and then rushed to hospital.”
“John Doe and what happened to him is the focus of this sentence, not the thing that hit him.”
Additionally, it isn’t important how he got to a hospital, only that he’s there. (I’m particularly upset at ending a sentence with a preposition)
This passive construction is much more efficient than;
“A car hit John Doe, and then an ambulance rushed him to a hospital,” which sounds as awkward as ‘passive’ sounds when ‘active’ should be used.
It isn’t vague like passive can be, but it isn’t concise, either. Another example is “John Doe was charged with the murder of his wife, Jane,” which sounds much simpler than “Police charged John Doe with the murder of his wife, Jane,” or even “Sergeant James Ryan charged John Doe with the murder of his wife, Jane,” where it isn’t clear whose wife Jane is. (or this one)
If writing a short story that only should contain 1500 words then you could look for the words that just add completeness like;
“John sat down and read a book.” – 6 words
“John sat and read a book.” – 5 words
There is sat down and stud up.
Some quick helping points that can improve the very next piece you write.
1. Know your reader, and this means more than knowing a few demographics (how old they are, their average income, etc.). To know your readers means you understand their fears, frustrations, and aspirations. Writing from the reader’s perspective will dramatically change the way you write.
2. Know your objective.
3. The pieces you write like blog posts, press release, video script, or anything else, need have only one aim. I can call this objective the Most Desired Result, or “MDR.” Knowing your MDR forces you to write with crystal-clear focus.
4. Use short words; you don’t need a thesaurus.
5. To convince, you must be clear to understand. Utilising short words is one of the best ways to make your meaning clear. So, don’t show off how many big words you can use.
6. Use short sentences. Your thoughts come across more clearly in short sentences. A bonus is that short sentences prevent you from confusing your readers.
7. Use short paragraphs.
8. Let’s imagine you come to a webpage filled with a large block of text. There are no paragraph breaks. Are you likely to read it? Most people would say no. Make your writing skimmable, scannable, and scrollable. Use short paragraphs.
9. Use active language.
10. Active language is powerful and interesting. In contrast, passive language is tedious. How do you identify which is which? In an active sentence, the subject is performing the acting: “Bill fixes cars.” But in a passive sentence, the target of the action becomes the subject of the sentence. For instance, instead of saying, “Bill fixes cars,” I might say, “The cars are fixed by Bill.”
Passive language presents your idea inadequately. It does feel “backwards.” Also, it is more difficult for many readers to understand. Write with power. Use active language.
11. Write recklessly, re-write ruthlessly.
12. When you eventually write your first draft, it’s okay if it’s appalling. In other words, write carelessly. After you have your first draft on a document (or in memory), filled with strength and power, you can clean up any “messes” you might’ve made. Be ruthless when you edit and re-write.
When you write a sentence, it can either be written in the passive voice or the active voice.
* The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example, ‘Brian replaced the flat tyre’.
* The passive voice describes a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb. For instance, ‘The flat tyre was replaced by Brian’.
In most cases, writing sentences in a passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence, and mislead the reader. It also regularly creates a wordy and clumsy sentence construction.
Defining Passive Voice
Every sentence contains, at a minimum, a subject and an action. The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about, and the action is what the subject is doing.
When the sentence is in the active voice, the subject is doing the action, and the subject typically arises before the action in the sentence. For example:
* I run. I is the subject. Run is the action. The subject doing the action appears before the action, so it is clear to the reader who is doing what.
When a sentence is in a passive voice, the subject is being acted upon by the verb, and the subject usually appears after the action. In an example:
* Running is something I do. Here, the action is Running, and the subject is I. The sentence is in a passive voice because the person doing the action (I) is not introduced until after the action.
Sometimes sentences also contain objects – or the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to define whether the sentence is in a passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in an active voice:
* Philip hits the ball. ‘Philip’ is the subject. ‘Hits’ is the action. So the ‘ball’ is the object.
That same sentence in passive voice reads:
* The ball is hit by Philip.
* The ball is the object – which is not the subject of the sentence because the ball is not doing the action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Philip)
Tips to Recognise the Passive Voice
Often a sentence in passive voice does not inevitably sound “incorrect” or wordy. However, it is still proper to write in active voice when possible.
To recognise that a sentence is in a passive voice, watch out for these keywords:
* Has been
* Have been
* Will be