How to Write With Confidence Using Active Voice

For a long time, I had a bad habit. I was an unconfident writer. In this series of articles, I’ll show you how you can avoid my mistakes and write with confidence.

Writing with confidence isn’t just about trusting your skill as a writer – it’s more than that. It’s about writing in a way that’s clear and honest, rather than distant and ambiguous. It’s about projecting confidence in the way you write, and sharing that confidence with your readers.

We can inject confidence into our writing by focusing on three qualities:

  1. Assertiveness
  2. Authenticity
  3. Active voice

We’ve already discussed how avoiding subjective phrases like ‘I think’ can make our writing more persuasive, and the importance of writing how we talk. Today, we’re going to take a quick look at grammar. In particular, we’re going to talk about something called ‘active voice’.

Active Voice

Most sentences can we written in two ways: active voice and passive voice.

In active voice the thing doing the action (the agent) comes first:

  • Sarah sends the email
  • Jo gave me a promotion
  • I agree with you

In passive voice the thing that receives the action comes first. The agent might appear later, usually with a ‘by’ before it. Sometimes, the agent won’t appear at all:

  • The email was sent by Sarah
  • I was promoted
  • Our strategy will be approved by the board

Active voice is more direct and easier to understand. More importantly, active voice assigns clear responsibility for the action that’s being done.

Active Voice in Business

Imagine the following statement in a group email:

Our customers need to be informed about the delay.

This is passive voice. The sentence seems perfectly clear, but it hides an important flaw.

Because there is no agent, it doesn’t explicitly state who needs to inform the customers. In effect, it shifts responsibility to the reader to decide who should be doing the informing.

Don’t be surprised when, at the next review meeting, nobody has spoken to the customers.

Active voice forces you to provide the subject:

The comms team needs to inform our customers about the delay.

It’s still possible to have a vague agent with active voice (for example ‘someone’), but it’ll be much more obvious to you when you do it. Then you can fix the problem before you press send.

There are times when passive voice can be useful. If the agent is unknown or you want to focus specifically on the person or thing being acted upon, passive voice does this well. For example:

Our new warehouse was opened last month.

Here, the fact that ‘we’ opened the warehouse is more or less irrelevant, and putting the important information first makes the sentence clearer.

Keep passive voice in your toolbox for when you need it. Most of the time though, active voice will give you more authority and less ambiguity. Combine it with an assertive, authentic writing style, and you’ll create confident writing that people will stop to read. And reading means results.