How To Eliminate Passive Voice In Essays

Acquisition editors have eagle-eyes for both talent and for amateurs.

They’re looking for stuff to buy and publish, and most are so overwhelmed with submissions, they’ve learned to quickly spot anything that allows them to set your piece aside.

Sound cruel? They don’t want reject your writing. But because of their work loads (and their goal—finding something they know will sell), once they see the mark of a novice, they’re on to the next manuscript.

Even experienced writers see their work land in the reject pile if they allow passive voice to creep in.

Give your manuscript a fighting chance and learn how to fix passive voice before you submit.

What Is Passive Voice?

I could tell you about subjects and objects and verbsand which is acting vs. being acted upon,  avoiding adverbs, and all that. But unless you excelled at diagramming sentences in school, that’s going to sound like gibberish.

The easiest way to spot passive voice is to look for state-of-being verbs and often the word by.

And the best way I know to teach this is by example.

Passive Voice Misuse

Passive: The party was planned by Jill.

Active: Jill planned the party.

Passive: The wedding cake was created by Ben.
Active: Ben created the wedding cake.

Passive: The Little League team was given trophies by the coaches.
Active: The coaches gave the Little League team trophies.

Passive: A good time was had by all.
Active: Everybody had a good time.

Avoid passive voice to increase your chances of getting more than five minutes of an editor’s time.

Active Voice Strengthens Your Prose

Avoiding passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition, but even better, it will give your writing a distinct ring of clarity.

Scour your work-in-progress for passive voice, root it out, replace it with active, and see how much more powerfully it reads.

That’s the kind of writing that gets more of an editor’s time.

Has this helped clarify how to fix passive voice? Do you still have questions for me or tips for others on how you’d dealt with this? Tell me in the comments.

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Further Suggestions for Using Passive and Active Voices

Summary:

This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active.

Contributors: April Toadvine, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-10-07 01:50:46

1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive.

Unnecessary shift in voiceRevised
Many customers in the restaurant foundthe coffee too bitter to drink, but itwas still ordered frequently.Many customers in the restaurant foundthe coffee too bitter to drink, but they still orderedit frequently.
Hetried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at by the other students.Hetried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but the other students still laughed athim.

2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence.

Dangling modifier with passive voiceRevised
To save time, the paperwas written on a computer. (Who was saving time? The paper?)To save time, Kristinwrotethe paper on a computer.
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, consultantswere hired to break the bad news. Who was seeking to lay off workers? The consultants?)Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, the CEOhiredconsultants to break the bad news.

3. Don't trust the grammar-checking programs in word-processing software. Many grammar checkers flag all passive constructions, but you may want to keep some that are flagged. Trust your judgment, or ask another human being for their opinion about which sentence sounds best.

The Paramedic Method is an effective process for helping eliminate passive voice.

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