Even as a professional writer, I have to review everything I write to make sure I am writing in “active voice.” I review for it in my professional writing as well as my everyday correspondences via email or letters, and believe it or not, I usually find at least one place where I can make my writing stronger.
What is Active Voice?
When using active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb: The girl brushed the dog. An example of this same sentence in passive voice would be: The dog was brushed by the girl. One tip for identifying a passive sentence is to look for the word “by.”
Why is Active Voice Important?
Active voice sentences are preferable in writing because they are clear, concise and to the point, and their meaning can be easily understood. Active voice also makes your writing stronger, and takes responsibility for what you’re saying. Passive voice, on the other hand, is less direct and non-committal. You often see politicians and government workers using passive voice.
What if you received a letter that began with: “It is our deepest regret to learn that you have been dissatisfied with our hotel accommodations.” Why not just say, “I am sorry that you weren’t completely satisfied with your stay. Let’s see what we can do to make things better.” Which one gives you a positive reaction? Which one feels like “corporate speak” instead of real concern? Talk TO your audience with direct, easy-to-understand wording.
Or consider this example in a simple email correspondence: “I was thinking about calling you” can be interpreted as a milquetoast sentence, while “I had to call you” invokes dynamism. Can you see the difference?
Some of the best examples of dynamic writing are found in direct mail copy. Take a moment to open one of your letters or emails and actually read the words out loud. See if they don’t get you excited.
Here are some examples from my own inbox:
“What started as a simple app to send disappearing videos to friends, Snapchat now attracts some of the biggest brands and influencers in the world. More than 300 million people use the app every month – generating an astounding 10 billion videos views per day!” (Kevin from Buffer)
“One day we got a call from a woman saying her husband had self-published a book and still had 3,000 copies sitting in their garage. We worked with them to promote the book and helped make it a New York Times Bestseller which has sold millions of copies and made the author world-famous.” (Steve Harrison) (note: I’d probably take out the word “has” in the last sentence to make it even stronger.)
Active Writing = More Sales
The next time you write an email or draft a letter or brochure copy, take a few moments to review for active voice writing. Get people excited about your product, service, or YOU. It can really make a difference when it comes to making the sale.
Hire a Professional Writer/Editor
For the best copy, hiring a professional business writer. However, even if you have written your copy yourself, consider hiring a professional editor like All the Buzz to review it for strength of voice. Even the slightest tweaks can improve your copy — and your sales — exponentially.