Use This (Active Voice) vs. That (Passive Voice)

You’ve likely not thought much about it since high school English, but it’s time to talk about it again—using active voice. Active voice makes it clear who is doing what. Passive voice is common in academic writing, so it can be a hard habit to break, especially when you have to switch to writing for a patient audience. Regardless of your audience, active voice makes for stronger, clearer writing, and it may increase your writing’s accessibility (1). Let’s look at a few examples:

Passive: “Blood will be drawn by the nurse.”
Active: “The nurse will draw blood.”

Passive: “Patient’s attitudes were observed by members of the research staff.”
Active: “The research staff observed patient’s attitudes.”

Changing passive to active voice is one of the easiest fixes I make when I review consent documents and patient materials. Now it is your turn—go back over your latest document, email or presentation and look for passive voice. A thank you will be said by your readers. Your readers will thank you.


(1) Northumbria University. "Many English speakers cannot understand basic grammar."  ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2010. <>.