When writing marketing content, you may hear terms used like active and passive voice. While you might have heard how vital active voice is for marketing content, you may find yourself asking what active voice is, why is it so important, and more importantly, how can I use it?
I’m about to sound like your high school English teacher, but don’t tune me out. She actually had a few good things to say.
Yes, it’s true she lied to you about the necessity of diagramming sentences. (No one has ever done that in the real world. Ever.) But she was right in saying that it’s better to write in active voice versus passive voice.
In active sentences, the subject is doing the action in the sentence. Let’s use this sentence as an example of active voice: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Here, the subject (FOX) is doing the action (JUMPING).
Just take a look at the action of the verb and ask yourself who or what is doing that verb’s action? Active sentences place the focus on the subject of the sentence by placing it up front ahead of the verb.
Does that ring any bells from your third period English class?
Contrarily, the subject is acted upon by the verb in passive sentences. Here’s an example: The lazy dog is jumped over by the quick brown fox. Here, the action (JUMPING) is performed on the subject (DOG).
Notice how writing in the passive voice adds more elements that bulk up an otherwise compact sentence? While a passive voice sentence states the same action, the active voice states the action more directly by placing the doer of the verb ahead of it. Depending on its utility, placement of the subject of a sentence matters a lot.
And when it comes to constructing your content, piercing sentences together can easily ruin a brand’s reputation.
Out of all different tips we implement when trying to strengthen writing, there’s one recommendation writers neglect: avoiding passive voice. It’s not that it’s grammatically incorrect. It’s because the passive voice looks less confident. When writing marketing content, you want to use active voice as often as possible. Using active voice in content marketing helps with:
Active voice is essential to creating dynamic online content, so naturally, the next step is to incorporate more active language in your content. Here are specific things that you can look for that can help you quickly revise passive language.
Passive voice often contains helping verbs like am, is, are, was and were, being, been, have, has had, do, does, did, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must, can, and could. While these verbs do not always have to change, if you notice them in your content, you’ll want to read the sentence to see if it’s creating a passive voice.
In a passive sentence, the subject will have the action being performed on them instead of acting as a participant in the sentence. When you notice this kind of passive voice, you can often flip the subject with the direct object and remove the helping verb to make the subject become the active participant. For example, you can change “The fish was caught by the man,” to “The man caught the fish,” by switching the subject and the direct object.
Sentences that use active language are easier to read. Trust your ear: if you are reading the information aloud and it sounds awkward, it’s probably using passive voice.
Sometimes when you become so caught up in trying to write actively, you forget to sound natural. You lose a lot of what makes your writing unique in the first place. The best writers always seem to know what makes them unique. They know their own strengths, weaknesses, propensities, competencies, etc., and you can see them leaning into these things in their writing.
In other words, they know the sound of their own writing voice. For example, if you were to close your eyes and listen to someone read a chapter by Mark Twain and then a chapter by Jack London, you’d most likely hear a significant difference in the two styles. That’s their writing voice you’re hearing.
And the only way to find your own writing voice is by knowing yourself better. There are all kinds of ways to understand which voice works best for you but one of the most helpful tools was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. In short, it’s an assessment that measures how you perceive the world and make decisions in it.
After taking the survey for myself, I discovered that I’m an ESTP—an acronym for the words Extraversion :: Sensing :: Thinking :: Perceiving. So how about you? How well do you know yourself? How well do you know the sound of your writing voice? If you aren’t sure, I suggest you start by visiting 16Personalities.com and taking the test. You may discover several new things about yourself that can enhance your writing style.
All-in-all, using active voice in your content will increase readability, provide better customer engagement, and promote action and interaction with your website. Being able to identify both active and passive voice while writing in your own voice and knowing the steps you can follow to change them is an essential part of content marketing training, Try the tips above to help your content get active and get the viewers you need.