Active Voice: What Is It and How Does It Make Your Copy Stronger?

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As a copywriter, you want your words to engage the reader and inspire action. Writing in active voice helps.

What Is Active Voice?

This is much simpler than your English teachers led you to believe. Writers compose sentences in either an active voice or passive voice. In the active voice, the subject performs the action stated by the verb.

An active voice example: Julian is eating the sandwich. (Julian is the subject. His action is eating.)

In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Example: The sandwich is being eaten by Julian. (The sandwich is the subject. It’s being eaten.)

Grammar Girl has a more in-depth tutorial if you’re still unclear.

Why Is Active Voice Better?

Generally speaking, readers respond better to sentences written in active voice. Why? Two big reasons: brevity and clarity.

1. Brevity

A sentence in active voice is generally shorter than one in passive voice. Here are a few examples:

Active: Earn $100 today! Passive: $100 can be earned today!

Active: I will process your order this morning. Passive: Your order will be processed by me this morning.

Active: Smart students use these energy drinks. Passive: These energy drinks are used by smart students.

In every case, the active voice sentence is the shorter option. It may seem trivial to concern yourself with just a few characters, but it matters.

Most readers scan, rather than actually read, web copy. They don’t slowly digest every word presented to them. Writing in the active voice helps readers get your point quickly.

2. Clarity

Sentences in passive voice are often awkward and unclear. Your audience isn’t likely to reread a sentence to make sure they understand it. They’ll just click away to something less mentally taxing.

Active: Jack and Jill climbed up the hill. Passive: The hill was climbed by Jack and Jill.

The first sentence gives the reader an easy-to-follow mental chronology. They picture Jack and Jill. They picture them climbing. They picture a hill.

But in the passive construction, the reader starts by picturing a hill. Then they read an awkward verb phrase (was climbed by) until they get to the end of the sentence where they finally find out who did the action. Now the reader has to think back to see the picture the way the writer intended.  

How Does Active Voice Help in Copywriting?

The primary goal of copywriting is to persuade readers to take action. The active voice helps readers respond to your call-to-action because you’ve painted a clear picture of them doing it.

Active: Order now to lose 10 pounds by June! Passive: Ten pounds can be lost by June if you order now!

Active: Save 20 percent on today’s order. Passive: Twenty percent will be saved on today’s order.

Active: Be a hero in a child’s life. Passive: A child’s life can have a hero in you.

Can Zombies Help You Write in Active Voice?

Oddly, yes.  

If you can mentally add “by zombies” after the action in your sentence, you have a passive construction. Passive voice examples:

  1. Your questions will be answered (by zombies).

  2. Key points will be highlighted (by zombies) at the conference.

  3. The copy should be approved (by zombies) before it is uploaded (by zombies).

You can fix these weak sentences by asking yourself who or what will do the action and start the sentence there instead.

  1. Our Marketing Director Tabitha will answer your questions.

  2. Dr. Morello will highlight these key points at the conference.

  3. Juan should approve the copy before Zane uploads it.

The active voice examples are all clearer, more believable, and more conversational—all traits that good copywriters use in their copy.

Summary

Effective copywriting includes writing in the active voice. The active voice is easier to scan and clearer to understand. Brevity is also important when writing online.

If you're not sure which voice you've used, zombies can help you to determine if you are writing in the active or passive voice. You can also hire a copywriter who will ensure that your writing is clear and concise.

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