Active vs. Passive Voice: Why Should Freelance Writers Care?

I will begin by stating that, yes, I go between active and passive voice regularly throughout the posts here on my blog (and will on this post, too). I also switch points of view, and am verbose. Why? First, it’s my natural inclination to do so. Second, because this blog is a creative outlet for me, and after years of writing (by necessity) according to the standards of others, it’s quite freeing.

It’s been my experience that some clients don’t care so much about active vs. passive voice – they just want keywords incorporated intelligently, clarity of thought, that sort of thing. Then again, other clients are sticklers for it, and will fiercely set their editors upon it at every turn, to the point where I would write with the utmost trepidation.

Every freelance writer, no matter who they’re writing for, comes across the conundrum of active vs. passive voice at some point in their careers. Actually, it can even start earlier than that, when writing any sort of paper in school. If you’ve been chastised for this in your writing, and wonder why it even matters, read on for some reasons as to why active voice is preferred.

It keeps things concise.

Although many, if not all, freelance writing projects have word count parameters, clients still like the idea of keeping sentences short. It’s a way to keep the reader’s attention; the wordier the work, the higher the chance that readers will just scan it or not read it at all.

Even if you, like me, find the whole active vs. passive voice thing annoying, as a reader you’d probably want to read the active, “Jane and Jerry will sign the contract” instead of the passive, “The contract will be signed by Jane and Jerry.”

It directly gets the point across.

Going along with the whole potential lack-of-maintaining-reader-attention thing, active voice just goes ahead and makes the point, whereas passive voice sort of dances around the point and gets there later. Persuasiveness is an important part of most freelance writing gigs, since so much of them are based in types of marketing.

For example, if you’re writing a piece for an environmental group about the dangers of deforestation, the active, “Bulldozers destroy acres of land every day” is more poignant in its brevity than “Every day, acres of land are destroyed by bulldozers.”

It leaves no room for vagaries.

I think you’d agree with me that it’s never fun to be reading something that’s supposed to be informative and end up with more questions than answers. Active voice states information with clarity – like, “The lioness carried her baby across the Savannah.” Sentences can become more muddled in the passive voice: “The baby was carried across the savannah by the lioness.” All of a sudden, it could be anyone’s baby and a dangerous situation!

In conclusion…

Active versus passive voice can stymie even the most experienced of freelance writers at times, so don’t get disheartened. There are lots of different resources on the Internet that can help you detect passive voice in your writing.

The Hemenway App seems particularly promising. Just delete the text you see there, start writing, and it’ll tell you how readable the text is, the word count, what’s passive, etc. You can also check out “The Ultimate Guide to Active and Passive Voice,” by Chris Scalise from Textbroker. So, get out there and write happily, and actively!

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