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Use an active voice when writing for the web. In active sentences:

  • The thing doing the action is the subject of the sentence
  • The thing receiving the action is the object

Most sentences are active, but it doesn’t hurt to take the time to ensure you’re using an active voice at all times. This is what the structure of an active sentence looks like (followed by examples):

 [Thing doing action]  [verb]  [thing receiving action]
 The professor  teaches the students.
 The police pursued  the criminals.
 The lions ate the trophy hunters.
Passive voice

You should only really use the passive form:

  • If you think that the thing receiving the action is more important or should be emphasised
  • If you don’t know who’s doing the action or don’t want to mention who’s doing it

In passive sentences, the thing receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence. The structure of a passive sentence looks like this (followed by passive versions of the examples above):

 [Thing receiving action]
[be + past participle of verb]
[thing doing action]
 The students are taught by the professor.
 You will be taught by the professor.*
 The criminals were pursued by the police.
The trophy hunters were eaten by the lions.

*This slight alteration of the example above shows you how passive voice can be used to make communications user-focused.

If used in a user-centric way, passive voice can make your sentences livelier, easier to read, and generally more ‘human’. It also makes you naturally use more words like ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘our’. It also helps users understand what our university is going to do for them and what they need to do for themselves.

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