Why the passive voice is considered harmful

Photo by MadMannequin

I really, really hate the passive voice. I had to rewrite my bachelor’s thesis after my supervisor rejected my active version. People use it to add an aura of faceless authority to what they’re writing, as if it’s not just someone’s opinion, it’s the way the world is. Things occur, there’s nobody to argue with, they just are. George Orwell agreed too, including it as one of his 5 rules of effective writing.

Most companies I admire write their copy in the active voice, see Feedburner’s about page for a good example. It’s part of a stance that they are in a conversation with their customers as equals, not talking down to them. The passive voice says "There’s no one you can talk to, this is a one-way communication". Active verbs give the feeling that you’re hearing from a human being who might welcome a response. Blogs use the active voice, and that’s what makes them seem so fresh and energetic.

It’s tough when you’re starting off to steer clear of passivity. You want as much authority as you can fake, since a big hurdle is getting anyone to take a chance on a startup with no history, but the language you use affects your thoughts and actions. Using the passive voice is all about putting distance between you and your customers, and you’ll end up losing out. Be active and engage people instead.

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