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Strengthen your Email Writing Series – #3 Writing in the Active Voice

  • By Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP
  • March 30, 2020

Email Writing

After reading the first two parts of our “Strengthen your Email Writing” series you’ve learned how to make your writing more impactful and easier to read.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a powerful writing tip that will make all of your business writing more succinct and consistent – writing in the Active Voice.

Writing in the Active Voice

Fiction is almost always written in the Active Voice, which makes it much easier to read. A Passive Voice puts the actor in the background. The action is being done to something by something else. The Active Voice tells the reader directly who or what is doing the action – in other words who or what is responsible. It provides a feeling of strength and impact. To convey action and propel the reader forward through the sentence, from one sentence to the next and ultimately your whole document, use the active form of the verb, not the passive

Passive: Investigation into products that could meet the needs of the department was initiated last spring. A basic list of requirements was defined and various vendors were interviewed.

Active: Last spring, our department began to investigate products that could meet its needs. We drew up a list of requirements and interviewed various vendors.

Notice the difference between these two passages. The first version uses the Passive Voice; the second version uses the Active.

To quickly identify if you’re writing in the Active or Passive Voice, find the subject of the sentence and decide whether it is performing the action or being acted upon. Here’s a quick tip: looking for a phrase that includes the word “by” can help. If this word appears in your sentence, then it is likely written in the Passive Voice. Re-write the sentence so that the subject to which “by” refers is placed closer to the beginning of the sentence. Active sentences are front-end loaded.

Keep in mind that occasionally the Passive Voice is the better choice. Use the Passive Voice when:

1. Reporting scientific experiments. Here the emphasis is on the results of the action, not the doer of the action.

2. Reducing blame. The reader will be more likely to respond positively to your ideas if you present them positively instead of negatively.

The Active Voice is your way to compose clear, action-oriented sentences, which turns your business documents into quicker and more applicable reading experiences for all of your readers.

Do you have other tips on enhancing your email writing? Let us know in the comments.

Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP

Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc., and a senior training & development professional with over 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. Read More