Can Zombies Help You Keep a Captive Audience in Your Instructional Design?

Haunting us from English classes past is the phrase “use active voice.” We hear the warning chains rattling in the halls of our memories, and a disembodied voice demands “no passive sentences.” Here’s where zombies come in handy.

Zombies, it turns out, offer a memorable way to distinguish if your sentence is active or passive. There are several memes and infographics on the Web illustrating this entertaining distinction. If you can insert “by zombies” in your sentence and it makes sense, your writing is passive.


  • “She was chased [by zombies].” < passive, because it makes sense
  • “Zombies chased [by zombies] her.” < active, because it doesn’t make sense

Who knew zombies could be so helpful, beyond providing nail-biting entertainment?

So why is active voice important? And why does it more effectively engage learners?

If you fill your instructional materials with passive voice, you risk turning your learners into zombies…or at least talking to a tuned-out audience, which negates the point of knowledge transfer.

Consider the following reasons active writing keeps your audience tuned in:

It’s more concise. Designing content for maximum retention means you must make the most of every word on the screen or slide. You use fewer words to create more impact.

It clarifies meaning. Because it’s more concise, active voice more accurately relays the point you’re trying to make. It avoids long, confusing sentences that can lose your learner.

It shows, instead of tells. “Show me, don’t tell me,” remains solid advice in the realm of writing. Participants don’t want to be talked at, they want to actively engage in their learning. An engaged learner walks away with greater retention and a sense of self-improvement.

Other ways to keep your audience from going braindead.

To keep your audience interested and excited about learning, consider incorporating games, Q&A, polls, quizzes, visuals like infographics, and videos. These change up the pace of a course and keep your learner interested, and curious about what might happen next.

For more ways to keep your learners engaged, check out “10 Ideas to Create Engaging eLearning Courses.”