Memo: Analysis of Active and Passive Voice Documents


Student’s Name



To: John Doe

From: Jack Doe

Subject: Analysis of Active and Passive Voice Documents

Date: 30 July 2013

The purpose of this memo is to present an analysis that explains how active and passive voices may influence the tone, diplomacy, ethical issue, and persuasiveness of written documents.


Tim Jewkes, an ex-office coordinator of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) of the State U is charged by the Idaho Attorney General office for embezzlement of department’s fund. The matter is currently under investigation of the law enforcement agency. Meanwhile, the president of the university writes a memo to the staff and faculty members describing the related issue. The memo is written in two formats: one – in active voice and the other – in the passive voice.


The document structure shows that the both active and passive voice formats contain 6 paragraphs. This section uses paragraph numbers while it is required to refer to the document. It is observed that both formats correctly define the purpose when conveying the proper subject matter to the audience. The paragraph 1 of the document in both formats summarizes its purpose. However, the active voice format defines it more clearly than the passive voice format. The clarity is observed in active voice in the sentence “The Prosecutor's Office alleges that Mr. Jewkes misappropriated funds from accounts.” The passive voice writes “It is alleged that funds were misappropriated from accounts.” Paragraphs 2 and 3 of both formats describe the subject matter. It explains Tim Jewkes’s position in the university: why he had access to the fund when accounting discrepancies were observed, and what actions the university took once it noticed the discrepancies. However, in this regard the passive voice format uses more diplomatic and ethical tone than the active voice format. The passive voice format describes, “It now appears that a portion of these funds may have been misappropriated” while the active voice assesses, “It now appears that Tim Jewkes may have misappropriated a portion of these funds.” The fund misappropriation matter is still under investigation, and a court has not extended a verdict. That is why the active voice format has violated Mr. Jewkes’s right of presumption of innocence. A similar ethical and diplomacy problem is observed in the active voice document “we estimate that Tim Jewkes or some other person has misappropriated more than $20,000.” At the same time, the passive voice document maintained the previously defined formalities “it is estimated that more than $20,000 has been misappropriated.” The paragraphs 4 and 5 of both documents in an explanatory tone inform that misappropriation of funds may take place in institutions where employees have access to the funds. However, this university very seriously has considered this alarm and taking measures to prevent happening this in future. The active voice format more persuasively conveys this message than the passive voice format. It is demonstrated in the paragraph 5 of both documents. The paragraph 6 is the conclusion of the document. It is well crafted in the active voice format than in the passive voice. It clearly explains that the message is from the president of the university. He clarifies, “As a general policy, State U releases information about such matters only after law-enforcement agencies have completed an investigation.” At the same time, the president emotionally appeals to the audience “I hope that this memo clarifies some of the confusion caused by this case.”


The above analysis serves as a good example for job application letters. A job application letter is a personal appeal to the future employer, where the candidate persuasively explains why the applicant is the best choice for the company. A job letter contains a response to the advertisement, educational background, and achievement description as well as a conclusion. With the use of active voice, an applicant can explain the above issues as a personal appeal while explaining if hired what he/she is planning to contribute to the organization.

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