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Can you Hear Voices in Written Content?

Strange as it may sound but written content does have voices, yes. As a matter of fact, there have been endless debates on which voice (active or passive) should be used when you are writing. This particular article defines both the voices and presents instances of which voice would be appropriate in which situation. But let us first be clear about what active and passive voice means.

Essentially, voice draws reference to the link between the subject and the object within a sentence which is connected with a verb. A sentence is said to be of ‘active voice’ as the subject within the sentence happens to be the doer of an action which in turn makes an impact on the object of the sentence. For example;

‘Rachel baked a cookie’.

In the example above mentioned, the subject within the sentence (Rachel) executed an action (baked) on a specific object (cookie).

On the other hand, a sentence is said to be of ‘passive voice’ when the object is acted upon by the subject within the sentence. For example;

‘The cookie was baked by Rachel’.

In the above example, the object (cookie) of the sentence was in receipt of an action (baked), which was executed by the subject (Rachel).

A simple indicator of a sentence framed in a passive voice is that it is linked with a ‘be’ verb which succeeds a past participle. Nonetheless, it is still possible that the sentence is in active voice even though it includes the verb ‘be’. For example; ‘I am eating a cookie’ happens to be in the active voice irrespective of the presence of the ‘be’ verb ‘am’. Another useful hint would be when the sentence is devoid of an object. This would imply that the sentence was constructed in passive voice even though there is a possibility to have a sentence with active voice that is devoid of any object.

When to use Active or Passive Voice?

It is commonly believed by some people that sentences need to be constructed using active voice, whenever there is scope. This could be true as constructing sentences in active voice can render your writing to be succinct. As is observed in the examples above mentioned, passive voice requires more words. When it is not written right, the written content can appear vague and awkward. This is particularly true when the subject within the sentence is just implied and not purposely mentioned.

Nonetheless, it does not in any way imply that we should always avoid using passive voice. Passive voice has its own utility too. For example; several authors use passive voice as vital tool when writing fiction. Mystery writers specifically are known to extensively use passive voice as it enables them to hide secrets within their narratives.

The absence of emphasis on the actor has also rendered passive voice to be widely used when writing academic or scientific papers. Though there has been a transition with regards to enabling scientists to talk about actions they have initiated within their experiments, the domain of science is biased towards passive voice with a view to maintain a semblance of objectivity. This is mainly due to the fact that it does not lay specific focus on the perspective of the individual but rather focuses on the actions that have been initiated as well as the outcomes.

While undertaking writing tasks, you should take into account whether you want to use active or passive voice. It mainly depends on what you intend to communicate. If you intend to attract attention to the doer, passive voice is recommended. If you intend to highlight the action, active voice is recommended.

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