From Passive Voice To Active Voice – How To Spot It & How To Change It

We live in a country that has 11 official languages. There is a good chance that either the writer or the reader of any given document is a second language English speaker. This makes the use of Plain Language even
more valuable.

The advantages of being bilingual, or even multilingual, are endless. Your brain actually works differently, but it does mean you have
to work hard to use the correct grammar.  

Plain language guidelines encourage the use of active
voice, simpler words, and shorter sentences and paragraphs. 

You need to simplify your message, and you can only do
that if you understand exactly what you want to say. There is no room for
ambiguity with plain language. 

Plain language is almost the opposite of academic
writing and that is where the challenge lies. You are so used to writing and
reading in this style that it makes passive voice hard to spot.
Remember that it is the word order you want to change. 

Subject-Verb-Object = Active  
The CEO made the announcement. 

Object-Verb-Subject = Passive 
The announcement was made by the CEO. 

Object-Verb = Passive 
The announcement was made. 

How to change passive voice to active voice: 
  1. Check sentence length. The longer your sentences are, the more likely you are to
    lapse into the passive voice. Reduce your sentence length. Split them, if necessary.
  2. Identify the subject. Who is the doer in the sentence? The subject should be
    first. Simply ask: who does what?
  3. Identify the verb. It’ll
    help you to identify the subject.
  4. Identify the object. If the sentence is passive the object will be first.
  5. Rewrite to follow the subject-verb-object
  6. What if there is no subject? At times, we do not know who did what. If there is no
    subject you might have to leave the sentence in the passive voice, but try to figure out who
    is responsible.   
Exercise: Change these sentences into the active voice.

The report was written by Mr Jones. 
ACTIVE: Mr Jones wrote the
The annual results were released by the auditors on the
23rd of June and the board was relieved when the markets rallied and
the share price increased. 
ACTIVE: The auditors
released the annual results on the 23rd of June. The markets rallied
and the share price increased, much to the relief of the board.
The line managers were instructed by the CEO to
re-evaluate the evacuation protocols of the factory. 
ACTIVE: The CEO instructed
the line managers to re-evaluate the evacuation protocols of the factory.

The Hemingway App will help to identify passive voice . You
can also use readability statistics in Microsoft Word. 

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write – Write to communicate.

    This article has 4 comments

    1. Jim wright

      Good post!

    2. Troy Phili

      Quite useful advice on the use of language and avoiding simple errors we often overlook.

    3. nyasha

      Very interesting! Thank you

    4. Sharon M Hart

      Thanks for sharing. It’s very helpful.

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