300 Days of Better Writing

April 8, 2010

Use the Passive Voice Here

Filed under: WritingExcellence — preciseedit @ 8:45 am

The active voice is preferable to the passive voice in nearly every case. In the active voice, the sentence structure is as follows:
Grammatical/rhetorical subject + main/rhetorical action + object of the action, i.e., the power structure. This is good writing.

The passive voice will use the object as the grammatical subject, which generally produces weak writing. However, the rhetorical subject can be long and complex. In such cases, the passive voice can help you simplify the sentence. Consider the following sentence.

The difficult and time-consuming decision about whether to purchase new office equipment and hire an administrative assistant or to outsource basic administrative services took time away from our core duties.”

The subject of this sentence has 24 words. The length is not a problem, grammatically, but it does delay the reader from getting to the main verb, “took,” and may cause the reader to miss the central point of the sentence: the decision took time away from our core duties. We can write the sentence in the passive voice to solve these problems. One possible revision is as follows.

Time needed for our core duties was taken up by the difficult and time-consuming decision about whether to purchase new office equipment and hire an administrative assistant or to outsource basic administrative services.”

By putting the sentence in the passive voice, the grammatical subject is shorter, only 6 words, and the reader can get to the main point quickly.

(This is the tip for day 286 in 300 Days of Better Writing.)

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