Use active voice#

Active voice makes the performer of the action (usually the user) the subject of the sentence. Passive voice makes the recipient of the action (not the performer) the subject of the sentence.

Active-voice sentences are more engaging, less complicated, less wordy, and easier to understand than passive-voice sentences. With active voice, the actions and responses of the user are easier to distinguish from the actions and responses of the technology.

Use (active)

Avoid (passive)

After you install the software, start the computer.

After the software has been installed, the computer can be started.

Click OK to save the configuration.

The configuration is saved when the OK button is clicked.

Create a server.

A server is created by you.

Rackspace products and services solve your business problems.

Your business problems are solved by Rackspace products and services.

However, passive voice is acceptable in the following situations:

  • Using active voice sounds like you’re blaming the user. For example, you can use passive voice in an error message or troubleshooting content when the active subject is the user.

  • The performer of action is unknown, or you want to de-emphasize the performer of the action and emphasize the object on which the action is performed.

  • Using active voice makes the sentence wordy or awkward.

Acceptable (passive)

Avoid (active)

Why?

If the build fails, the flavor might have been omitted.

If the build fails, you probably omitted the flavor.

The active voice blames the user.

A flag was set incorrectly.

You set the flag incorrectly.

The active voice blames the user.

Account owners can’t be assigned additional roles, and their access can’t be restricted.

Administrators can’t assign account owners additional roles, and they can’t restrict the access of account owners.

In this context, the object, account owners, is more important than the actor, administrators.