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Style Chapter 6: Active Voice not Passive
vandanagoyal wrote in visionindia2047
Your writing should use active voice, as a general principle. It is more direct.

Lata sang a song at the concert is less wordy and more precise than A song was sung by Lata at the concert.

Besides, passive voice weakens the clarity of your writing as the reader can be unsure of what you mean.

Sometimes the context can be innocuous like after a long wait and suffering by the people, relief eventually arrived by air in flooded areas. It is difficult to say who sent the relief and how did it reach those who needed it.  In the context we know, it would have been more informative and direct to say Flood victims with no access to food and water waited for xx days before Air Force helicopters eventually air dropped relief packages.

Since passive voice obscures the actor, it weakens  the writing. Stephen King in his Work 'On Writing' suggests that use of passive verbs is cowardly as the writer is afraid of the responsibility an active doer will take. Consider the following passage from India Today :

"....  his recent claim that the government refused to negotiate with the terrorists in Mumbai. Later, when it was pointed out that the terrorists themselves were not looking for negotiations, Singh mumbled saying that he was going by what he had read in the papers. Well, he should know better."

It is not clear here who pointed out that terrorists were not 'looking for negotiations'. Was it the media or was it  a colleague? Singh's  answer is a sheepish mumbling and hence it would have been interesting to know who put him in the situation. The line and its speaker is open to interpretation and inference. Passive voice here has diluted the effect of the writing.

This version would have been more responsible

""...  his recent claim that the government refused to negotiate with the terrorists in Mumbai. Later, when it was pointed out by this reporter that the terrorists themselves were not looking for negotiations, Singh mumbled saying that he was going by what he had read in the papers. Well, he should know better."

Passive voice is grammatically correct and the issue is mostly only stylistic but it affects how the reader understands your argument. Ideas which are so clear to you have to be conveyed right to the reader.

Sometimes, however, passive voice is acceptable as the writer deliberately encourages the reader to make his own judgment about the doer or wants to keep him mysterious. For example A door was opened at the end of the corridor. The writer does not want to reveal the identity or even the gender of the opener. 

In general, active verbs are sure and firm whereas passive are vague and ineffective. She will learn will always be more emphatic and precise than It will be learnt.

Readers look for an active certainty and surety in your writing.

©2008 VisionIndia2047

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