Effective Writing Tips: How to Avoid Passive Voice for Writers

Effective Writing Tips: How to Avoid Passive Voice for Writers

Writing papers can be a challenging task, but it is essential for any writer to master the art of effective writing. One aspect that writers often struggle with is avoiding the use of passive voice in their writing. Passive voice can make sentences vague, unclear, and grammatically incorrect. If you want to be a better writer, you must always strive to write in an active voice.To understand the difference between passive and active voice, let’s take an example. Thomas scorched the papers. In this sentence, Thomas is the actor, or the subject, who performed the action of scorching the papers. The verb “scorched” is in the past tense. This is an example of an active voice sentence.Now, let’s switch to passive voice. The papers were scorched by Thomas. In this sentence, the subject “papers” is the one being acted upon, and the actor “Thomas” is mentioned after the verb. The verb “were scorched” is also in the past tense. This is an example of a passive voice sentence.So why should you avoid using passive voice in your writing? Firstly, using passive voice often leads to vague and unclear sentences. The subject performing the action is not in the front, making it harder for readers to catch the main idea of the sentence. Secondly, passive voice can also make your writing sound more scientific and detached, which is not always appropriate for all types of writing. Lastly, using passive voice can weaken the impact of your writing and make it less engaging for readers.Now that you understand the importance of avoiding passive voice, here are 5 strategies to help you achieve this goal:

  1. Think before you write: Always think about what you want to say before putting it down on paper. Having a clear understanding of your message will help you form clearer and more active sentences.
  2. Rely on active verbs: Use strong and specific verbs to make your writing more dynamic. Avoid weak or generic verbs that could lead to passive voice constructions.
  3. Be cautious with “to be”: Verbs like “is,” “are,” “was,” and “were” can sometimes signal the use of passive voice. Be aware of their presence and try to rephrase the sentence to make it more active.
  4. Avoid unnecessary “by” phrases: Sometimes a passive construction can be avoided by omitting the “by” phrase. For example, instead of saying “The papers were cleaned by Thomas,” you can simply say “Thomas cleaned the papers.”
  5. Read and revise: After writing your piece, take the time to read through and revise it. Look for instances of passive voice and rephrase them to be more active. This will ensure that your writing is clear, engaging, and grammatically correct.

By following these strategies, you can become a more effective writer and avoid the pitfalls of passive voice. Remember, active voice not only improves the clarity and readability of your writing but also allows you to express your ideas more effectively. So, the next time you sit down to write, keep these tips in mind and let your writing revolutionize the way your readers perceive your work!

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The Passive vs the Active Form

The passive form of a sentence is used when the subject of the sentence is receiving the action, while the active form is used when the subject is performing the action. Using the active form allows for clear and concise writing, while the passive form can often lead to confusion and ambiguity.

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Using the Active Form

When writing in the active form, the subject of the sentence is the one performing the action. This form is generally preferred because it leads to more engaging and direct writing. It also helps to clearly identify who or what is responsible for the actions described in the sentence.

For example, consider the following sentence:

Passive form: The book was read by me.

Active form: I read the book.

In the active form, the subject “I” is clearly identified as the one performing the action of reading the book. This not only provides clarity but also makes the sentence more engaging and interesting to read.

Avoiding the Passive Form

While there may be some instances where using the passive form is appropriate, in most cases, it should be avoided. The passive form often leads to wordy and convoluted sentences that can confuse the reader.

For example, consider the following sentence:

Passive form: The decision to implement the new policy was made by the company’s CEO.

Active form: The company’s CEO made the decision to implement the new policy.

In the active form, the subject “the company’s CEO” is clearly identified as the one making the decision. It eliminates the unnecessary use of the passive voice and provides a more direct and concise sentence.

Strategies for Using the Active Form

To ensure your writing is in the active form, there are a few strategies you can follow:

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  1. Avoid using forms of “to be” (such as “is,” “are,” “was,” and “were”) as they often indicate the passive voice.
  2. Look for the actor in the sentence and make sure they are the subject of the sentence.
  3. Use strong and active verbs instead of relying on weak or passive ones.
  4. Consider the clarity of your sentence and whether the active form will better convey your intended meaning.
  5. Consult a grammar guide or style manual for further understanding of the active and passive forms.

By following these strategies, you can avoid the passive voice and create writing that is clear, engaging, and informative.

Passive VoiceActive Voice
The play was written by Shakespeare.Shakespeare wrote the play.
The cake was baked by my grandmother.My grandmother baked the cake.
The article was published by Pearson.Pearson published the article.

In summary, it is important to consider the use of the active form in your writing. While there may be times when the passive voice is necessary or appropriate, in most cases, using the active form will result in clearer, more concise sentences that engage readers and effectively convey your message.

Understanding the Passive Voice

However, in most cases, it’s best to avoid the passive voice and instead use active voice constructions. Active voice not only makes your writing clearer and more concise, but it also lets the reader know who is responsible for the actions being described. Writing in active voice also tends to be more engaging and interesting for the reader.

To understand the passive voice, it’s important to recognize its various forms. Passive voice is constructed using a form of the verb “to be” (e.g., is, are, was, were) followed by the past participle form of a verb. For example, instead of saying “Thomas cleaned the apple,” the passive voice would be “The apple was cleaned by Thomas.”

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Many myths and misconceptions surround the passive voice. One common myth is that using the passive voice makes you sound more educated or sophisticated as a writer. This is simply not true. In reality, the passive voice can often make writing sound vague, impersonal, and unnecessarily complicated.

Another myth is that passive voice must always be avoided. While it’s generally advised to minimize the use of passive voice, there are instances where it can be appropriate or even necessary. For example, in certain scientific or technical writing, the passive voice can be used to describe a process or procedure in a more objective or impersonal manner.

A popular exercise for understanding the passive voice is to convert passive sentences into active ones. Instead of saying “The votes were counted,” you would say “We counted the votes.” This exercise helps you practice identifying the actor and putting them in the forefront of the sentence.

In summary, understanding the passive voice is crucial for any writer. While it is not inherently bad, passive voice should be used sparingly and intentionally. Active voice is generally preferred in most forms of writing, as it is clearer, more engaging, and ultimately more effective in conveying your intended message to the reader.

Benefits of Using the Active Voice

1. Clarity and Directness

Active voice sentences are usually clearer and more direct than passive voice sentences. When you use the active voice, the subject is the doer of the action, providing a clear and concise description of who or what is responsible for the action. This formulation leaves little room for ambiguity, making it easier for readers to understand your intended meaning.

2. Enhanced Reader Engagement

Active voice sentences make writing more engaging and dynamic, as they showcase the action being performed by the subject. By using active voice, you can create a sense of immediacy and involve readers in the action, enabling them to connect with the story or content more deeply.

3. Improved Writing Style

Active voice is generally preferred in most forms of writing. It is more concise and straightforward, helping you avoid wordiness and excessive use of auxiliary verbs. By using the active voice, you can maintain a clean and efficient writing style that captivates readers and conveys your ideas effectively.

4. Elimination of Vague or Causative Language

Passive voice is often used to obscure the doer of the action or shift the focus away from them. However, this can lead to a vague or causative writing style. Active voice, on the other hand, helps eliminate vagueness by putting the subject in front and center, ensuring clarity and providing a clear understanding of who or what is responsible for the action.

Passive VoiceActive Voice
The car was cleaned by John.John cleaned the car.
An apple was eaten by Thomas.Thomas ate an apple.
Myth: Passive voice is always grammatical.Fact: Passive voice is not always grammatical.
Some people believe that passive voice makes writing appear more objective.Some people mistakenly believe that passive voice makes writing appear more objective.

In summary, using the active voice provides numerous benefits for a writer. It enhances clarity, improves writing style, engages readers, and eliminates vagueness. By understanding the advantages of active voice and avoiding common myths and misconceptions surrounding passive voice usage, writers can effectively communicate their ideas and craft impactful pieces of writing.

Tips and Techniques to Avoid Passive Voice

Tip 1: Use Strong Verbs

One way to avoid passive voice is to use strong verbs that clearly indicate who is performing the action. For example, instead of saying “The house was cleaned,” you can say “Mary cleaned the house.” By using the active voice, you not only make the sentence more engaging but also provide a clearer picture of who is responsible for the action.

Tip 2: Be Mindful of Modals

Modal auxiliaries, such as “can,” “should,” or “might,” are often used in passive voice constructions. To avoid passive voice, consider using these modals in the active voice. For example, instead of saying “The book can be read,” you can say “You can read the book.” This shift in perspective makes for a more direct and engaging sentence.

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Tip 3: Consider the Causative Form

The causative form is a useful tool for avoiding passive voice in certain situations. This form is often used to describe situations where someone causes something to happen or makes someone do something. For example, instead of saying “The car was repaired,” you can say “John had the car repaired.” By including the causative verb “had,” you introduce an active element into the sentence.

Tip 4: Summarizing Werner Maple’s Myths

In his book “The American Grammar,” Werner Maple introduced several myths about the use of passive voice. While passive voice is sometimes necessary or stylistic, it should not be the default form for expressing ideas. Instead, active voice is generally considered more effective for clarity and readability. So, unless there is a specific reason to use passive voice, it is best to avoid it.

Tip 5: Identify the Actor

One basic technique to avoid passive voice is to ensure that there is a clearly indicated actor or subject in your sentence. Passive voice often hides the actor, making the action vague or undefined. By front-loading the sentence and including the actor in the subject position, you create a more direct and precise sentence.

Tip 6: Use Active Voice for Objectives

When writing objective or formal summaries, it is important to rely on active voice to convey clarity and objectivity. Passive voice can introduce errors or lead to vague statements. By using active voice, you provide a clearer and more accurate summary of the subject matter.

Tip 7: Watch Out for Some Exceptions

While active voice is generally preferred, there are some exceptions where passive voice can be used effectively. For example, when the actor is unknown or unimportant, or when you want to emphasize the object of the action rather than the actor. However, it’s important to use passive voice sparingly and only when it serves a specific purpose.

FAQ

What is passive voice and why is it important for writers to avoid it?

Passive voice is a grammatical structure in which the subject of a sentence is being acted upon, rather than performing the action itself. It is important for writers to avoid passive voice because it can make writing less engaging and less clear. Active voice, on the other hand, is more direct and dynamic, making the writing stronger and more interesting for readers.

Can you give an example of a sentence in passive voice and explain how it can be rewritten in active voice?

Sure! Here’s an example: “The cake was eaten by Mary.” This sentence is in passive voice because the subject (the cake) is being acted upon (being eaten) by someone (Mary). To rewrite it in active voice, we can make the subject (Mary) the doer of the action: “Mary ate the cake.”

Are there any situations where passive voice can be used effectively?

Yes, there are certain situations where passive voice can be used effectively. For example, when the doer of the action is unknown or unimportant, or when the focus is on the object or the result of the action rather than the doer. However, it is generally recommended to use active voice as much as possible in order to make writing more engaging and clear.

What are some common indicators of passive voice in a sentence?

There are several common indicators of passive voice in a sentence. Some of them include the use of the verb “to be” (e.g., is, was, were, etc.) followed by a past participle, the absence of a clear doer of the action, and the use of prepositional phrases that indicate the recipient of the action rather than the doer. Being aware of these indicators can help writers identify and avoid passive voice in their writing.

How can I rephrase a sentence in passive voice into active voice without changing the meaning?

To rephrase a sentence in passive voice into active voice without changing the meaning, you need to identify the doer of the action (if it is not already mentioned) and make it the subject of the sentence. Then, use the appropriate verb form to indicate that the subject is performing the action. It may also be necessary to rearrange the sentence or make other grammatical changes to ensure clarity and coherence. By doing this, you can effectively transform a passive sentence into an active one while preserving the original meaning.

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is a grammatical construction where the subject of a sentence receives the action of the verb. In other words, the object of the sentence becomes the subject. For example, “The book was written by John” is a passive voice sentence. Contrastingly, “John wrote the book” is in the active voice.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.