Writing a Good Essay: How to Write in Active Voice
Writing a great essay is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, as every piece plays a crucial role in creating a complete picture. From grammar and structure to tone and style, every element of your essay is vital in creating a comprehensive and compelling piece of writing. And one key element of your essay puzzle that should not be overlooked is active voice. As a student, mastering how to write in an active voice is essential to creating a successful essay.
Writing in the active voice means putting the subject of your sentence at the forefront rather than burying it under a pile of passive phrasing. Active voice makes your writing more engaging, dynamic, and authoritative. It helps you connect with your readers deeper and conveys your ideas clearly and effectively.
Here is a deep dive into the concept of active voice, exploring what it is, why it’s so important, and how to write in active voice. Also discussed are examples of active and passive voice, the key differences, reasons why is active voice better than passive and practical tips to help you master active voice writing. By mastering active voice, you can elevate your essay writing to the next level and have all the tools you need for success.
What is an active voice?
So, what is active voice? Active voice is a grammatical construction in which the subject of a sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. The active voice directs attention to the entity performing an action rather than the one receiving it. For example:
Active voice: “The professor graded the essays.”
In the example, the subject (the professor) performs the action (grading), making it a sentence in active voice. Writing in an active voice creates more straightforward, transparent, and concise sentences. Active voice sentences convey a sense of action and energy, and they help your readers understand your ideas better. Using an active voice makes your writing less ambiguous and more compelling, authoritative, and impactful.
What are the differences between active voice and passive voice?
Active and passive voice are two distinct ways of structuring sentences. Understanding how to write in active and passive voice is essential to clearly and effectively communicate your ideas. Here are the differences between active vs passive writing:
Order of words
The order of words in a sentence is one of the most significant differences between active vs passive writing. In active voice, the subject takes center stage and is emphasized, which puts the focus on who or what is doing the action. The sentence structure follows the order of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO). For example, “The CEO announced the new policy.” Using active voice creates a clear and straightforward sentence that is easy to understand.
In contrast, the passive voice primarily focuses on the action rather than the subject. The sentence structure follows the order of Object-Verb-Subject (OVS). For example, “The new policy was announced by the CEO.” The sentence is more convoluted and less clear. Therefore, using the correct word order can affect the clarity and flow of your writing and even impact your essay’s overall tone and feel.
Number of words
In active voice, the subject is acting, making it the focal point of the sentence. Unnecessary words are often omitted, leading to more concise and direct sentences. In contrast, the passive voice tends to be wordier and less straightforward, making the writing appear bloated and unclear. Consider the following example in active vs passive voice:
“The data were analyzed by the statistician” (passive voice) versus “The statistician analyzed the data.” (Active voice).
The second sentence is not only shorter but also more direct and engaging. The reader immediately knows who is performing the action and what that action is, which makes for a more interesting and informative sentence. Using active voice and minimizing word count can elevate your writing and make it more effective.
When using active voice, the verb is strong, precise, and focused on the subject performing the action. In active voice, verbs are usually present tense, making the sentence feel more immediate. This helps to make the writing more engaging and impactful.
In contrast, when using the passive voice, the verbs do not identify who or what is performing the action in the passive voice. The verb is often in the past participle form, making the sentence more distant and detached. This can make the writing feel less dynamic and less direct. Consider the following examples:
- Active voice: “The group concluded the task before the stipulated time.”
- Passive voice: “The task was concluded before the stipulated time by the group.”
The active voice sentence identifies the subject, “the group,” and the action they took, “concluded the task,” creating a more confident and assertive tone. The passive voice version is less direct, with a weaker verb, “was concluded,” and doesn’t identify who is responsible for the action. Using active voice with solid verbs is better when choosing between active vs passive writing as it creates clear, concise, and compelling writing.
The tone of active voice is generally more direct, assertive, and confident than passive voice. Active voice emphasizes the subject, which makes the sentence’s tone more authoritative. For example, “I cleared the basement and attic.” (active voice).
Active voice also conveys a sense of urgency or immediacy. This is because the subject is performing the action in real-time rather than having the action done to it in a more detached way. This is especially important in persuasive writing or when conveying a sense of urgency, such as in a news article or emergency announcement.
On the other hand, the passive voice sounds vaguer and more indirect, which may give the impression that the writer is unsure or trying to avoid responsibility. For example, “The basement and attic were cleared.” (passive voice).
Passive voice can be useful in situations where the focus should be on the action or the recipient of the action rather than the subject. For example, in scientific writing, where the experiment or observation is the focus, the passive voice can emphasize the process rather than the person performing the action. However, it’s important to use passive voice judiciously and only, when necessary, as it can often make writing dull or overly complex.
Why use an active voice when writing your essays?
Writing in an active voice is a critical component of effective writing. Active voice makes your writing more engaging and helps you communicate your ideas. When writing an essay, using an active voice can improve your writing in several ways. Here are some of the reasons why you should use active voice when writing essays:
Active voice uses fewer words than passive voice
One significant advantage and importance of active voice is that it tends to be more concise than passive voice. Active voice requires fewer words to convey the same meaning as passive voice. This concision can make your writing more powerful, allowing you to convey your point more efficiently.
For example, compare “The course topic was covered in the previous lecture by the professor” (passive voice) to “The professor covered the course topic in the previous lecture.” (active voice). The active voice version is more straightforward and takes fewer words to convey the same idea.
Makes your essay more comprehensible
Using active voice makes your essay more understandable to your readers. In active voice, the subject performs the action, making the sentence structure clear and easy to follow. Passive voice can sometimes be ambiguous or unclear about who is performing the action.
So, why use active voice? When writing an essay, you want your readers to be able to follow your ideas and understand your arguments. Using active voice ensures your writing is as comprehensible as possible.
Reduces ambiguity and enhances engagement
Another importance of active voice is that it helps reduce ambiguity in your writing, making it more engaging for your readers. Passive voice can sometimes obscure the agent of an action, leaving readers unsure about who is doing what. For example:
Ambiguous: “The correction was made.” (Passive voice)
Clear: “I made the correction.” (Active voice)
On the other hand, active voice clarifies who is performing the action, reducing ambiguity and making your writing more engaging. By engaging your readers, you can hold their attention and keep them interested in your ideas.
When should I use an active voice in my essay?
Writing in an active voice in your essay can effectively make your writing clear, concise, and authoritative. However, knowing when and how to use active voice appropriately is essential.
To sound more authoritative
Another scenario when using active voice is in academic and professional writing when you want to convey authority and confidence. By emphasizing the subject performing the action, an active voice makes the writer more assertive and in control of the presented information. For example, “I conducted a thorough analysis of the data” (active voice) sounds more authoritative than “A thorough analysis of the data was conducted by me” (passive voice).
To reduce redundancy
Use active voice when you want to reduce redundancy in your writing. Passive voice often requires additional words to convey the same information as active voice, which can lead to unnecessary repetition and wordiness. Active voice, on the other hand, is typically more concise and to the point.
Passive: The experiment was conducted by the researcher, and the researcher collected data.
Active: The researcher experimented and collected the data.
In this example, the passive voice unnecessarily repeats the subject (researcher) and the verb (conducted/collected) in both clauses, resulting in a clunky and repetitive sentence. So, in summary, why use active voice? Because by switching to active voice, the sentence becomes more concise and easier to read.
To make your essay more readable
Active voice should make your essay more readable and engaging for your audience. Active voice in a sentence helps to keep the focus on the subject performing the action, which makes the writing more exciting and easier to follow. On the other hand, passive voice can sound vague and indirect, leading to confusion and disinterest from your readers.
Passive: The ball was thrown by John and caught by Sarah, who was running.
Active: John threw the ball to Sarah, who was running and caught it.
In this example, the passive voice emphasizes the ball rather than the characters, resulting in a less engaging sentence. By switching to active voice, the sentence becomes more dynamic and vivid, making it easier for the reader to picture the action.
When should I use passive voice in my essay?
Passive voice in a sentence is appropriate in certain situations. Here are some instances where you should use passive voice:
When making broad statements
A passive voice is helpful when making broad statements about a topic. Using phrases in passive voice can help avoid assigning blame/responsibility and distancing oneself from the statement. This can be particularly useful when discussing controversial or sensitive topics. For instance, “The project was poorly planned and executed.” (passive voice) rather than “You poorly planned and executed the project.” (active voice).
When the subject in question is not necessary
Passive voice in a sentence can be used when the subject is unknown, unimportant, or irrelevant. Using passive voice in such cases can make the sentence more neutral and objective and help focus the reader’s attention on the described action or event. For example, “The window was broken” (passive voice) when the speaker doesn’t know who broke it or “The meeting was canceled” (passive voice) when the reason for the cancellation is not essential.
However, it is essential to be careful when using passive voice, as it can sometimes lead to ambiguity or lack of clarity in the sentence. Therefore, ensuring that the sentence still conveys the intended meaning clearly and effectively is essential.
To emphasize the receiver of an action
Phrases in passive voice are also used to emphasize the receiver of an action rather than the doer. This technique is especially effective when the receiver of the action is the main focus of the sentence, and using the active voice would shift the focus to the doer. This is common in academic writing when the emphasis is on the results of an experiment or study rather than the person conducting it.
For example, “The dataset was analyzed using statistical algorithms.” (passive voice) instead of “We analyzed the dataset using statistical algorithms.” (active voice). In this case, the focus is on the data analysis rather than the researcher. Using passive voice in this context can also help maintain objectivity and avoid bias toward the researcher’s role in the study.
Examples of active and passive voice in sentences
Active and passive voice are two ways to construct a sentence; understanding the difference is essential in writing compelling and clear prose. Here are some active vs. passive voice examples in sentences:
- The company designed a new product.
- The artist performed an amazing song.
- The committee elected a new president.
- The winger broke the scoring record.
- The organization released a new product line.
- The professor graded the mid-terms quickly.
- The famous athlete broke the Olympic record.
- The popular artist painted a magnificent portrait.
- The writer completed his awe-inspiring book.
- The doctor attended to the feeble patient.
- An Oscar-winning screenwriter directed the film sequel.
In each of these sentences, the subject is the performer of the verb/action. The sentences are straightforward, clear, and direct. Using active voice in writing can make your sentences more concise, engaging, and easier to understand.
- A new product was designed by the company.
- An amazing song was performed by the artist.
- A new president was elected.
- The scoring record was broken by the winger.
- A new product line was released by the organization.
- The mid-term was graded quickly by the professor.
- The Olympic record was broken by the famous athlete.
- A magnificent portrait was painted by a popular artist.
- An awe-inspiring book was completed by the writer.
- The feeble patient was attended to by the doctor.
- The film sequel was directed by an Oscar-winning screenwriter.
In each of these sentences, the subject is not performing the action but is instead being acted upon. In some cases, passive voice can be beneficial if the emphasis is on the recipient of the action rather than the performer. However, passive voice can make sentences more wordy, indirect, and unclear. In general, as seen from the active to passive voice example, it is better to use active voice whenever possible.
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Understanding the difference between active and passive voice is crucial for effective writing. Active voice is preferred in most cases as it is more direct, assertive, and authoritative. Passive voice is used to achieve specific effects, such as emphasizing the receiver of an action or when the doer of an action is unknown, unimportant, or irrelevant. In essay writing, using an active voice helps you effectively communicate your ideas and arguments.
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