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Tip 21: Finding Passive Voice


Passive sentences aren’t incorrect; most of the time they just aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and can obscure meanings, while other times it’s just vague. Also, passive voice is wordy. Do you remember that 80 page Standard or that 400 page operation or procedure manual? They may have been written in passive voice. You can tighten up your writing if you use active voice more often then passive.

Do you have trouble catching passive voice in your writing? Word can help!

Try this in MS Office Word 2003:
If you have Word 2007, click here for directions.

1. Click on the ‘Spelling & Grammar’ tab.
2. Click on ‘Tools’ at the top menu of a Word document.
3. Click on the ‘Spelling & Grammar’ tab.
4. Under ‘Writing Style,’ click on ‘Settings.’
5. Scroll Down the page until you get to the ‘Style’ section.
6. Click on ‘passive sentences.’
7. Click ‘Ok.’

Now when you have a sentence written in passive voice, you will be alerted by seeing a squiggly line underneath a passive voice verb phase. If you see this green line and you right-click on it, it may tell you that your sentence is written in passive voice. It might tell you how the sentence should be written–in active voice!

TYPE THIS: I will not be bossed by you.
RIGHT CLICK ON IT: A call-out above your sentence will now say, ‘you will not boss me,’ which is written in active voice. Voila!

TYPE THIS: The paint can were strewn around the room.
RIGHT CLICK ON IT: A call-out above your sentence will now say, Passive Voice (consider revising).’ This is because the computer doesn’t know who the actor is in this sentence, so you will have to make one up or figure one out. How about, “The children had strewn the paint can around the room”?