Actively Combat Passive Voice with a Google Doc Add-on

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“Prefer active voice” may be the single most frequently dispensed injunction to improve writing. Strunk and White, George Orwell, and all student handbooks of the past 50 years extol the virtue of active verbs.

But two problems often go unremarked:

  1. Students cannot reliably identify passive constructions in their own work. How then are they to follow this sage advice?
  2. In a number of rhetorical situations, passive voice is preferable to active voice—though most beginning writers cannot reliably identify these exceptions either. (Ironically, my opening sentence above includes a judicious use of the passive. Did you notice?)

The free Writing Reviser Google Doc Add-on solves both these problems.

By making a simple menu selection, students can see all the passive verbs in their own essays. And by referring to the explanatory text, students learn to determine whether or not an active verb would be preferable to the passive in each instance. In other words, rather than simply “correcting mistakes,” Writing Reviser encourages thoughtful reflection, helping students begin to think like experienced writers and to gradually internalize the same informed judgments.

Understanding active and passive verbs is just one of the many ways Writing Reviser enhances student writing.

Add Writing Reviser to your Google Docs today for free. Learn more about the Writing Reviser—and our complete suite of writing tools from Curriculum Pathways—at WritingNavigator.com.

All Writing Navigator tools are also available on the Curriculum Pathways website and as a free iPad app!

Looking for more resources that help students with passive voice?

Curriculum Pathways includes a number of engaging assignments on active vs. passive verbs. In one of these, students write two similar essays: one with passive verbs in which they try to deceive the reader, and one with active verbs in which they try to clarify the truth. In addition to the reliably amusing challenge, intentionally using passive verbs—and observing the impact—is a thought-provoking way to solidify the active-passive distinction. And Writing Reviser allows students to verify that they’ve used the active and passive verbs specified in the directions.

Check out these Writing Reviser resources on active and passive verbs:

Mistakes Are Made with the Passive Voice
Political Palaver and the Passive Voice
Case Study: Elmo the Elephant
How You Can Make Passive Verbs Active
Political Speech in Three Formats
Zoo Snafu

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About Author

Tim McBride

Supervisor, Educational Multimedia Writing

Tim McBride has degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology and NC State University, where he taught English for several years. His first book of poetry, The Manageable Cold, was published recently by TriQuarterly Press at Northwestern University. He works as a writer and an editor on Curriculum Pathways. He lives in Cary, NC, with an American pit bull terrier named Charlie McCarthy and a Catahoula hog dog named Junk.

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