Are You Too Passive? Then, Get Active!
When developing materials to prompt your audience to take specific actions, it’s important to choose active, NOT passive, voice or language. Writing in passive voice makes it hard for your reader or listener to identify what action you want them to take and can sometimes cause confusion about what your main message really is. Writing in active voice means that you’ve made clear who’s doing the action. This is especially important when it comes to health communications and influencing behavior change.
Here’s an example:
Passive Voice: Seat belts should be buckled before driving off.
Active Voice: Buckle your seat belt every time before you drive off.
If you’re not sure if your writing uses active or use passive voice, please visit our Clear Communication Index site and theFederal Plain Language Guidelines for more examples and other resources that identify the difference between active and passive voice.
Main Message and Call to Action
- Does the material contain one main message statement?
- Is the main message at the top, beginning, or front of the material?
- Is the main message emphasized with visual cues?
- Does the material contain at least one visual that conveys or supports the main message?
- Does the material include one or more calls to action for the primary audience?
- Do both the main message and the call to action use the active voice?
- Does the material always use words the primary audience uses?
- Does the material use bulleted or numbered lists?
- Is the material organized in chunks with headings?
- Is the most important information the primary audience needs summarized in the first paragraph or section?
- Does the material explain what authoritative sources, such as subject matter experts and agency spokespersons, know and don’t know about the topic?