Plain English Documents/Introduction/NPR
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Use Active Voice

[checkmark] Active voice is the best way to identify who is responsible for what action.

In an active sentence, the person or agency who is taking an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item that is acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Passive sentences often do not identify who is performing the action.

The lake was polluted by the company.The company polluted the lake.
New regulations were proposed. We proposed new regulations.
The following information must be included in the application for it be considered complete. You must include the following information in your complete application.
Bonds will be withheld in cases of non-compliance with all permits and conditions. We will withhold your bond if you don't comply with all permit terms and conditions.

More than any other writing technique, using active voice and specifying who is taking an action will change the character of our writing.

How do you identify passive sentences?

Passive sentences have two basic features, although both do not appear in every passive sentence.

  • A past participle (generally with "ed" on the end); and

  • A form of the verb "to be."

Regulations have been proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.We have proposed regulations.
The permit will be approved by the agency's State office.Our State office must approve your permit.

In a very few instances, passive voice may be appropriate. For example, when one action follows another as a matter of law, and there is no actor (besides the law itself) for the second action, a passive sentence may be the best method of expression.

If you do not pay the royalty on your mineral production, your lease will be terminated [by the action of the law].

[checkmark]To communicate effectively, write the strong majority of your sentences in the active voice.