How to write a good essay: passive voice or active?

When you are writing an essay, it can be difficult to decide between active voice or passive voice. Many high schools stress that students avoid passive voice altogether, but this is a rule that can be bent based on your situation. Both active and passive voices serve a good purpose and can be used for different styles of writing.

It is true that most of the time active voice is preferred. Passive voice can be required sometimes but only because it served a purpose. If you put your verb in the passive voice, you need to be able to justify this. You should have a good reason for using passive voice. If you do not have a good reason, then it may be best to stick with the active voice.

Active voice is most often reserved for non-scientific writing. When you use the active voice in your essay, it makes every meaning clear for the reader. It keeps your sentences from being too long or complicated.

An example of a passive voice is:

  • Sentence 1: “The exit exam was failed by over one half of the students”
  • The action is performed upon the students (subject), which means it is indirect and therefore a passive sentence.

  • Sentence 2: “Over one half of the students failed the exit exam”
  • The students (sentence subject) perform the action, which means it is an active voice.

Another example is:

  • Sentence 1: “The acceleration was slammed on by him as traffic picked up”
  • This is another example of the passive voice.

  • Sentence 2: “He slammed on the acceleration as traffic picked up”
  • This is an example of the active voice because, again, the subject of the sentence is performing the action.

Active voice is considered me concise than passive voice because it takes fewer words to express an action.

For example:

  • Sentence 1: “Action on the legislature is being considered by their committee”
  • This is not as concise as it could be because it is passive. Compare it to:

  • Sentence 2: “Their committee is considering action on the legislature”
  • In the above example, there are fewer words required to communicate the same idea as the first sentence.

So if you have a limited word count, less truly is more and active voice should be used over passive voice.

If you are writing a scientific paper, too much passive voice will cloud the precise meaning of your sentences.