Why Should You Care About Active Voice?

MC900391700I’ve mentioned it a couple of times – it’s a good idea to use active voice instead of passive when you are writing. This general rule is valid for legal briefs and blog posts. But why should you care? If both sentences say the same thing, what does it matter how you say it?

1. Active voice makes clear who is doing what to whom.

You can write much more clearly by structuring your sentences: subject, verb, object. The subject is who or what is doing the action, which is the verb. The object is the thing having the verb done to it. Passive sentences are arranged: object was verb by subject. This can be confusing because the reader sees the object first and can easily mistake it for the subject.

2. Active voice tends to be shorter

Active voice tends to use less words because you do not need as many connecting words like was and by. For example: The police arrested the defendant is shorter than The defendant was arrested by the police. Over the course of a 10 page legal brief those couple words per sentence can add up. They are even more important in a blog where word count matters and writers are racing to keep the reader’s attention.

3. Active voice is more interesting

Action verbs grab your reader’s attention better than passive verb pairings. This gets into word choice a little too. You can keep your reader engaged by writing The police chased the defendant instead of the defendant was pursued. An engaged reader reads faster and enjoys your writing more.

As a lawyer, you have been trained to wade through passive voice and other grammatical muck and mire. You spent countless hours reading dense court opinions filled with passive voice. Police reports and even statutes are loaded with it.

But just because you can get through passive voice, doesn’t mean you should subject opposing counsel, your blog readers, or even judges to this cumbersome and often confusing legalese.

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