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Active Writing is Clear Writing

Student gets inspirationIn scientific, technical, and business writing, the primary aim isn’t just to get information into documents: it’s to help readers understand the point. To do that, your team members’ writing must be clear, but wordiness and cluttered sentences can interfere with that communication. How do your team members keep their writing clear? One trick is to use active voice.

What is active voice?

In an active sentence, the subject performs the action, whereas in a passive sentence, the subject receives the action. Consider these examples:

  • Passive: The hypothesis was tested in an experiment that was designed and carried out.
  • Active: Our team designed and performed the experiment to test the hypothesis.

How can I identify passive constructions?

Here are three easy ways to identify passive constructions:

  • Can you immediately tell who or what is performing the action?
  • Does the verb use a form of to be like this: is done, are recorded, has been tested, will be reviewed?
  • Is the doer of the action mentioned or is the doer the object of a preposition (by the scientists)?

How do I make a passive sentence active?

Let’s practice with an example:

A book about protein markers for cancer has been written by Dr. Moriarty.

First, put the subject, Dr. Moriarty, before the verb.

Next, chose the active form of the verb: wrote instead of has been written.

Finally, move the object of the passive sentence after the verb:

Dr. Moriarty wrote a book about protein markers for cancer.

Active voice immediately makes your writing easier to understand. Active writing

  • makes sentences shorter,
  • makes it easy to see who is doing what in any sentence,
  • removes unneeded words, and
  • helps keep readers engaged.

Remember, however, that while readers prefer active voice, that doesn’t mean that passive is unacceptable. Use active when it’s important for readers to know who or what completed the action and passive if it’s not important, you don’t know, or your readers won’t care.

[cta]For more ways to improve your team’s writing, contact Hurley Write. We offer onsite workshops, online courses, and webinars to help business people, engineers, scientists, and technical professionals master the writing skills they need. Visit us at, call us at 877-24-WRITE (877-249-7483), email us at, or visit our Subscriber Resources page.[/cta]

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