Avoiding Passive Voice

Passive vs Active Writing
June 6, 2023

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We often hear the active voice is better suited for intelligence writing. But why? 

In intelligence writing we need to be concise, simple and direct. We want our readers to take away the key points of our documents quickly, and understand exactly what we are saying. Active voice sentences allow us to do that. 

  • Passive voice reads tired. It usually involves something being done by someone. Passive voice sentences often use more words and can be vague. Passive voice can also cloud the meaning of your sentences.
  • In active voice sentences, the sentence’s subject performs the action. Active voice sentences have a direct, clear tone. It allows the reader to focus on the subject of your sentence and the action the subject is doing, rather than on the action’s target. Active voice is a more effective way to communicate the ideas, facts, and analysis you are describing. 

Here are some quick examples:

Passive voice: The floor has been mopped.

  • Active voice: Dad mopped the floor. 

Passive voice: An old truck was found on the farm.

  • Active voice: We found an old truck on the farm.

Passive voice: The building was attacked by the military.

  • Active voice: Military forces attacked the building.

Passive voice: The child was bitten by the dog.

  • Active voice: The dog bit the child. 

Tips for converting sentences to active voice:

  • Read your work out loud–you can catch awkward sentences and unclear phrasing and mark them as items to review. You will also hear when you use active and passive voice and how they shift your work’s tone.
  • Identify who or what is performing the action, and make that the subject when you rewrite your sentence.
  • Look for a “by” phrase (by the dog). Rewrite the sentence so the subject buried in the “by” clause is closer to the beginning.
  • If the subject of the sentence is somewhat anonymous, try to use general terms such as “researchers,” “experts,” or “reports.”

Although passive voice is never the preferred method for intelligence or security writing, at times passive voice might work a bit better, particularly if you are emphasizing an action taking place or if you are discussing a topic that is a bit vague and you do not know the subject.

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