Why Is It Important to Use Active Voice vs. Passive Voice In Content Marketing?
The immense strength of the written word in content marketing is not something that should be underestimated. Words have an almost unlimited power to lead consumers to feel certain emotions, compel them to action and convince them that something is right or wrong. As such, they are an incredibly important tool for content marketers.
When creating a piece of content for public consumption there are several things to be aware of. Knowing your audience, word economy, practicing inclusiveness and proofreading for spelling and grammar are just a few areas to focus on. You can read more about some of these ideas from this Three Girls Media blog article. Paying attention to these areas of your writing can help to ensure that your content marketing is clear, concise, and most importantly, easy to be understood by your target audience. There is however, one more area to be on the lookout for, and that is the use of active voice over passive voice.
Being aware of and making a purposeful choice to use active voice in your content marketing pieces is one of the best ways to make certain that your content is taken seriously and that it motivates, encourages and moves your audience to action. As Shane Hall from Copypress reminds us, “Active voice matters because it injects more energy into your content and smoothly leads a potential customer toward clicking, buying, and other actions.”
In this article we discuss the meaning of active and passive voice, the best ways to identify each, why it is important to use active voice in your content marketing and examples for how to turn writing that is in passive voice into active voice.
What Is Voice?
The first step to identifying active and passive voice is to understand what each means. In any piece of writing, verbs have five properties. Grammarly describes these as, “voice, mood, tense, person, and number.” In terms of voice, there are two options: active and passive. It is important to note that both forms are grammatically correct and have their own time and place in writing. Active voice is clearly the better choice for any sort of content marketing material. Below you will find a summary of active and passive voice, and what areas of writing they are typically used in.
Learn how to identify active voice in your content marketing.
In active voice, the focus is on what the subject of the sentence is doing. The sentence is written in a certain order, with the subject (the noun that is doing something) first, then the verb (the action word) followed by the direct object (the noun in the sentence that is the object of the subject’s action).
This method of writing creates strong, direct and easy to read content. Active voice projects confidence and has a way of taking control of a piece of writing. Since the subject matter is clear and easily understood, it also lends itself to engaging with the reader and establishing a sense of trust.
In this form of writing, the sentences and subject matter aren’t long and drawn out. As such, the content marketer is able to gain and keep momentum while writing, essentially keeping the customer interested and actively involved with your brand. Additionally, active voice is not overly academic and allows readers to connect with your brand easily instead of feeling alienated by not understanding what you are trying to convey.
Passive voice, on the other hand, is where the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. It is a subtler form of voice and can tend to appear weaker, tedious and even impersonal. Not exactly the type of tone you’re looking for in a piece of content marketing! Passive voice does have a prominent place in writing, but it is not broadly used in content marketing. It is primarily saved for academic or legal forms of writing for several reasons. One is that active voice can be thought of as simplistic, something that academics naturally try to avoid. As subject matter tends to be more in-depth with these types of writing, the use of passive voice (which tends to have a higher word count than active voice) allows the writer the space to show that the action is more important than the performer of the action.
Identifying Active And Passive Voice
The next step to using active voice in your content marketing is being able to identify each type of voice. This is actually quite simple once you know what you are looking for. The primary difference is essentially the word order. If you read a sentence and it is clear who is performing the action (and this subject is identified in the first part of the sentence), it is likely already in active voice. A passive sentence can be a bit harder to identify, however, there are some tips for spotting this type of voice. One of these is to look for the following helping verbs:
am, is, are, was, were, being, been, be, have, has, do, did, does, will, would, shall, should, may, must, can and could.
Another way to identify a passive sentence is to read your sentence out loud. If it sounds a bit awkward and you have to read it more than once, chances are it is in passive voice.
Examples of active and passive voice are found below:
She wrote the blog.
The blog was written by her.
The dog chased the cat.
The cat was chased by the dog.
My daughter sang a song.
The song was sung by my daughter.
As you can see, with active voice the subject and action are quite clear, whereas the passive voice takes a bit more reading to identify what is really happening. When sentences are this short and simple (in both the active and passive forms), it may be difficult to understand why you would want to stay clear of passive voice in your content marketing. The following examples from Copypress are more business centered and perhaps will give you a better idea of why active voice should be used in your content marketing as much as possible
Customers adore our engaging games.
Our engaging games are adored by customers.
Every employee has passed an extensive training process.
An extensive training process has been passed by every employee.
We will get you the maximum return on investment.
The maximum return on investment will be gotten for you by us.
The last sentence in particular is a great example of how passive voice can turn something that is simple and easy to understand into something more complicated than it really needs to be.
Now that you know how to identify active and passive voice, it’s important to understand why active voice is preferred over passive voice in content marketing.
Use active voice in your content marketing.
Choosing Active Voice For Your Content marketing
The purpose of any type of content marketing is to connect with the reader for a specific purpose. As Melissa Furreura from Copypress explains, “In content marketing, you can’t approach your audience with reservations. If you’re uncertain or lacking confidence in your product, business, or marketing, that sentiment can show in a number of ways — including passive voice writing. Active vs. passive voice is a vital distinction in polishing your sales and lead-generating copy.” Furreura goes on to further explain some of the benefits that using active voice in your content marketing can achieve:
“Engage – Action verbs and active voice help the reader get into the story and directly engage with the reader.
Readability – Active language and phrases are easier to read than passive verbiage, especially for those whose first language is not English.
Persuade – All content is created with the purpose of calling the reader to action, either by doing business with your company or sharing your content. Using action verbs and active language makes your writing persuasive and engaging.
Momentum – When you write in passive voice, your content becomes drawn out and less exciting to read. By using active language throughout your content, you will keep your readers from scrolling to the end of the article or leaving the page.
Connect – Web content is meant to provide information in a way that is quick and easy to digest. Consistently using passive language can cause articles and posts to sound more academic, sometimes to the point of alienating readers.”
While each of these areas is important with regard to content marketing, ensuring that your content is readable and your customers are able to engage with your brand are two of the most important ideas. If your audience is able to comprehend your content and make a connection with your brand, they are more likely to be persuaded to follow your call to action (CTA).
Switching From Passive To Active Voice
It’s quite clear that it is essential to use active voice in content marketing, but how do you train yourself to recognize passive voice and ensure using active voice becomes second nature? One of the easiest ways to switch something from passive to active voice is to change the word order so that the subject of the sentence is at the beginning, followed by some sort of action. Another way to switch your writing to active voice is to find the helping verbs that were mentioned earlier and eliminate them. As long as you’re able to quickly identify who is performing the action in your sentence, chances are your writing is in active voice. If you’re still unsure after taking these steps, try reading your content out loud. Oftentimes this will help you identify passive sentences that you may have missed.
Is It Ever Okay To Use Passive Voice?
How can you switch from passive to active voice?
While it is true that the goal should be to use active voice as much as possible in your content marketing, there may be times where it will be prudent to use passive voice instead. Remember, a passive sentence is still a grammatically correct sentence. While the beauty of using active voice is in its conciseness, it can also be to its detriment as well. Active voice can sometimes be interpreted as forceful or even intimidating at times, so when dealing with a sensitive or negative subject, it may sometimes be wise to use passive voice to soften the blow in order to upset or offend as few customers as possible. Additionally, you will likely see examples of passive voice in business blogs (yes, including this particular blog) as an article written in purely active voice has a tendency to appear choppy and abrupt. An entire article written this way can fail to hook the reader or customer and may not encourage them to read to the end of your blog.
It’s also worth saying that long-form blogs tend to perform better than short-form blogs, and when you’re trying to increase your word count, the use of passive voice is an easy way to do it!
Last, there are times when you may have a client who prefers the use of passive voice, especially those in academic, legal or tech industries. This obviously will be a time when you may find yourself using more passive voice than you’re comfortable with, but it’s still important to balance the passive with the active whenever possible!
While it may seem tedious, taking the time to make sure that your content marketing is in active rather than passive voice can have a huge impact on the quality and effectiveness of your content marketing. Using active voice will help you to gain the trust of your customers, engage with them and persuade them to take a chance with your brand. You want your target audience to read your content and immediately understand what their next steps should be; using active voice over passive voice is a surefire way to achieve this goal.