The difference between active and passive voice is one of those things people can’t always explain, but they know it when they see it. The common wisdom is that writing with active voice is preferable. But is that always true? And does it really matter to anyone other than your 8th-grade English teacher?
Like any rule, there are exceptions—but for the most part, active voice is the way to go for marketing content.
An Example of Active vs. Passive Voice
It’s easiest to understand the difference with an example.
Active: Taylor ate five cupcakes.
Passive: Five cupcakes were eaten by Taylor.
Both statements share the same information but in slightly different ways. In the active example, the subject (Taylor) did the action (ate the cupcakes). In the passive voice example, the subject (cupcakes) had the action done to it (were eaten by Taylor).
Not only is the passive example longer, but it is a complicated way of expressing a very straightforward thought.
How Active Voice Helps Marketing Copy
It’s almost always better at getting straight to the point and is more engaging for readers—both primary goals for any marketing content. Being mindful of the voice can help in the following ways:
- Placing focus on the subject instead of the action makes writing more direct, clear, and easy to read. (Making readers work too hard to understand you is a sure way to lose their interest!)
- Active voice is more conversational and less wordy.
- Reading something in an active voice has better pacing and flow.
In short, active voice improves readability, and readability not only makes readers happy, it matters for SEO.
Is It Ever Okay to Use Passive Voice?
There are some instances where passive voice works and is even preferable. For example, sometimes the object of the sentence is the main story:
Passive voice: Further research is needed.
Or the “doer” of the action is unknown:
Passive voice: The package was stolen from my porch.
Or to avoid placing or accepting blame:
Passive voice: Mistakes were made.
Passive voice isn’t wrong, it’s just a style. There may be times when it works better in a sentence.
Our advice: Try changing your passive voice sentences. Does that make them stronger? Great. But if you find yourself doing verbal gymnastics to change a sentence from passive to active voice, consider whether that sentence is really necessary. Passive voice might just be hiding what you don’t know.