The visitors to your website and blog want writing that is clear, concise, formatted correctly, and helpful in finding the information they seek. To keep the reader on the page, use the active rather than the passive voice. Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, states that a "passive voice equals timid voice—and timidity never makes for good writing."
Active v. Passive Voice
"In case you're a little hazy on the whole active/passive voice thing," wrote King, "it has to do with the verbs you choose." In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing something, while in passive voice, the subject is being acted upon:
- Active voice: "The police officer arrested the man." The police officer is the subject and doing the arresting.
- Passive voice: "The man was arrested by the police officer." The man is the subject and isn't doing anything.
Why Use the Active Voice
The active voice is concise. The sentence, "The man directed traffic." is four words long. The passive version needs seven words. "The traffic was directed by the man."
The active voice is stronger. For another example:
- Active voice: "Judges explain the reasons for their decisions."
- Passive voice: "The reasons behind their decisions must be explained by judges."
The passive voice allows the writer to omit the identity of the actor creating a rambling sentence, such as the words found in statutes and legal opinions. While they work well in those settings, the passive voice doesn't work well in a blog being skimmed for information.
Is There Ever a Reason to Use the Passive Voice?
Yes, the most common reasons are: (1) you don't want to name the actor, (2) the action that took place is more important than the actor, (3) you don't know who did the acting, or (4) you need to use a passive sentence to smoothly connect with the sentence before it.
How to Find Passive Sentences
A quick way to find the passive sentences in your blog is to look for an extra "to be" verb—"is, are, was, were," and the word "by."
- Active voice: The cat chased the dog.
- Passive voice: The dog was chased by the cat.
Writing in the active voice creates content that is direct, easy to understand, and quick to read. You can start by reviewing your profile on the SBM Member Directory—is it in first person, and does it use active sentences? If so, your readers will easily and quickly learn more about you and find the information they need to contact your office.
Roberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of Briefs, the Ingham County Bar Association e-newsletter, and The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.
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