Communication Skills

JS Tip 267: From the Writing Workshops: The Conciseness Series: Get Rid of the Passive Voice

Use active voice rather than passive voice. Active voice is more concise, more direct, and more conversational.

Active voice describes a sentence in which the subject does the action:

Kathy wrote the report.

The subject of the sentence is “Kathy.” She’s doing the writing. Active voice.

Passive voice describes a sentence in which the subject receives the action:

The report was written by Kathy.

The subject of the sentence is “the report.” It’s “being written” (receiving the action) by Kathy. Passive voice.

Get rid of passive voice in three steps:

  1. Identify the action going on in the sentence (if any):
    The new program was approved by the CEO.
    Approve. Approved. Approving. Whatever.
  2. Identify the actor—the do-er—of the action:  
    The new program was approved by the CEO.
    The CEO.
  3. Move the actor—the do-er—to the beginning of the sentence and rewrite the sentence:
    The new program was approved by the CEO.
    The CEO approved the new program.

Eight words down to six. A twenty-five percent weight loss. Wow. That’s good. And more concise.

Next week, we’ll talk about getting rid of the big words and the extra words. This is fun.