Using the active voice is often cited as a guide for clear writing, but what does it mean? It means put the subject first in the sentence such as “Volunteers sold tickets”.
The opposite of active voice is passive voice or construction such as “Tickets were sold by volunteers”.
Active voice or construction is usually preferred because it is shorter, clearer and more direct. But not every sentence has to be written in active voice. You may want to emphasise the object by putting it first in the sentence such as “Tickets will be sold by volunteers at the door”.
Using the active voice rather than the passive is a key principle of plain English writing.
Academic publisher Elsevier’s new 8 page guide called Elements of Style for Writing Scientific Journal Articles has great advice for all factual writing. The most important rule is “write for the busy reader who is easily distracted”. Elements of Style says readers will use almost any excuse to stop reading when they encounter poor writing that leads to reader fatigue and frustration.
Sections in Elements of Style include:
- Basic rules of manuscript language including tenses, grammar, sentences and paragraphs
- Classic errors to avoid
- Always remember your reader
- Cross-references and figure captions
- Writing and rewriting.
We’ll highlight more advice in future posts.
Read Elsevier’s Elements_of_Style_for_Writing Scientific Journal_Articles (Dec 2013).