Your English teacher was right: Active voice is better than passive voice

One tip to improve your report writing that will help reduce case turndowns and liability


This article is part of a series, Report Writing for a New Generation: Merging Technology with Traditional Techniques, which covers general police report writing skills along with plain English instruction, professional and technical writing best practices, and how technology is changing the way officers write.

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I do not remember much of what I learned in high school. I was the typical high-school boy more concerned about playing sports, lifting weights and dating than learning complicated sentence structure, advanced grammar, or sentence diagraming. The one thing I did remember from English class was that my teacher, Mr. Clark, always stressed the importance of using active voice instead of passive voice. The problem, however, was none of the students even knew what active voice was and why we should use it.

The misuse or overuse of passive voice is the number one mistake I see in police reports and one of the leading causes of dropped cases, inadmissible evidence and police report writing-related lawsuits But why?

Using passive voice is technically grammatically correct, but passive voice severely weakens the sentence and leads to ambiguity and confusion in police reports. Passive voice hides the subject (doer) of the sentence – which is not what you want to do when trying to explaining who did it.

I always prefer the active voice over the passive voice since active voice sentences are stronger and clearer. Also, active voice pushes the subject first and makes the subject the most important part of the sentence.

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