The Importance of the Active Voice

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Clarity: the backbone of technical writing. Providing a clear message to the reader promotes an effortless reading experience, leading to a better understanding of the content. Writing in the active voice (and avoiding the passive voice) creates clarity in writing as few other tactics do.

What are “active voice” and “passive voice”?

In most cases, “active voice” means the sentence subject acts upon the verb. “Passive voice” means the subject of the sentence receives the verb’s action. In simpler terms:

  • Active voice = verb in present tense.
  • Passive voice = verb is in past tense.



Sentences written in the active voice are clear and more direct than those written in the passive voice because the sentence is centered around the most important verb, and that verb is in the present tense. Here is an example of a sentence in the passive voice:

  • The field is used to enter information.

In this sentence example, notice the verb used is past tense. The sentence tells the reader the field is used, and more specifically, used in the past. Also, notice the verb enter is also in the sentence, and enter is a much stronger verb that carries a more concrete meaning. The goal is centering the sentence around the strongest verb, preferably using only that one verb.

Now, look at the same sentence rewritten in the active voice:

  • Enter the information in the field.

In the example above, the writer fixes two problems – changing the sentence from past to present tense and removing the unnecessary verb (use). By deleting used, enter becomes the only verb in the sentence, and the sentence is written in the present tense. This active voice example directs the reader on what they need to do in real-time.  

The passive voice is not always bad. Sometimes you need it, but overall the active voice is more reliable. 


The active voice puts the reader in the center of the action, in the present tense, not in the past, which is extremely important when writing a user guide or instruction manual, for example. A user guide’s job is to guide a reader through a specific task in real-time, and the active voice accomplishes that job far better than the passive voice.


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