The Coffey Blog

Use active voice to bring your healthcare content to life

Posted on: Monday, January 25, 2016

Thomas Lederer, Copy Chief

Healthcare consumers have no shortage of reading material at their fingertips. So you want to do everything you can to make your healthcare content stand out, whether it's online or in print.

Here's a quick and effective tip for better and more lively copy: Use active—not passive—voice when writing and editing sentences.

Active vs. passive

First off, what's the difference? Active voice is when the subject of the sentence is doing the action. Using active voice creates strong, direct sentences in which it's clear who is performing the action on what.

Example: Dr. Smith (subject) advised (action) the patient (object) to follow up with a specialist.

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. 

Example: The patient (subject) was advised (action) by Dr. Smith to follow up with a specialist.

Passive voice reverses the order of the subject and the object and can lead to long, confusing sentences, leaving the reader asking, Who did what?

What's the benefit?

The active voice can add punch to your writing. It helps you come to the point and avoid wordy, complicated sentences.    

And when you're aiming for a conversational tone—which we encourage you to do—the active voice is your friend. It tends to sound more natural and approachable. Consider the following examples:

Passive: The news that Edwards was doing well after surgery was delivered to the family by the doctor.

Active: The doctor told the family that Edwards was doing well after surgery.

Passive: More information can be found by community members on our website.

Active: You can find more information on our website.

Pro tip: Have a first draft written? Go through it carefully to look for passive voice—and try reworking those passages. A helpful hint: Look for the word by. You'll often find it in passive writing.

Passive: A $1 million donation to the nursing school by an anonymous donor was made in honor of Marcia Jones, DNS.

Active: An anonymous donor gave $1 million to the nursing school in honor of Marcia Jones, DNS.

It's a tool, not a rule

Of course, there are situations where the passive voice is perfectly fine. Sometimes, you might choose passive over active because you want to emphasize a certain part of a statement. Play it by ear. What sounds natural? What conveys your message best?

So what's the take-home? Be aware of what the active voice can do for you. Use it to make your messages more clear, clean, concise and consumable. And take a pass on the passive—in most cases.

Be pro-active!

Need help writing or editing your healthcare content? We stand ready to help! Contact us for more information about our award-winning healthcare content

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