Business, Business writing, Career

Business Writing Tips: Active versus Passive Voice in Business Writing

Ever go to a stadium to see a sports game or a concert? I remember seeing the Jackson’s Victory Tour when I was in middle school, and boy, did I want to watch Michael Jackson spin and glide across the stage. The thump of the beat vibrating the chairs and the stadium floor, the blaring music, plus a couple of glimpses through the packed crowd was all I got. My father must have been among the last group who bought the tickets before the concert sold out. We sat so far away. I was thankful for the sparkling glove Michael Jackson waved from time to time. The experience made my year, gave me the opportunity to stay up late on a school night and something exciting to talk about at school, I still wished I could be closer to the action.

The placement of the action in the sentence, I believe is somewhat similar to the seats you get at a sports game or concert. The closer you are, the more you can see the subject either tackle, pitch, kick or dance. You take in the whole experience. The emotion in a performance is more clear, the event even more exhilarating. When seated farther away, sounds are barely heard and actions seen, and the emotion and details of the performance are less obvious.

In business writing the placement of the action in a sentence either gets the point across faster or possibly bores the reader. When the subject is doing the action, such as “Rick throws the ball,” it’s called the active voice. When the subject receives the action, such as, “The ball was thrown by Rick,” it’s called the passive voice.

The active voice is preferred in business writing because it’s more clear. The use of the passive voice can make a sentence wordy and when improperly overused, makes writing tedious. Helping verbs in any form of “be” usually suggests the passive voice.

The passive voice is sometimes an effective tool in business, though, but it boils down to these three circumstances:

  • when the performer of the action isn’t as important as the receiver
  • when the performer of the action isn’t known or significant
  • when attempting to avoid identifying the performer of the action

The next time you write a letter, memo, proposal or report, make sure the readers experience the action and aren’t catching a glimpse.



 Photo credit: anat_ticker

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