Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997. In our previous article, ‘What is the Difference between Active and Passive Voice?’, we explained the difference between active and passive voice in academic writing. We consulted these works while writing this handout. It infuses your writing with “action”, making your reader feel excited about your work—and you. “The Passive Voice Can Be Your Friend,” Declining Grammar and Other Essays On the English Vocabulary. In academic writing, passive voice is used to describe a process, the results of study, or similar material which is objective in nature. In papers where you discuss the work of an author—e.g., a historian or writer of literature—you can also strengthen your writing by not relying on the passive as a crutch when summarizing plots or arguments. (919) 962-7710 Thus it’s useful to keep in mind the sort of active verbs you might use in lab reports. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000. who will be doing the discussing. This solution was then titrated with hydrochloric acid. using a personal pronoun (...by us). 'doer' in this text could be interpreted as society, the dominant The Transition to College Writing. All this advice works for papers in the humanities, you might note—but what about technical or scientific papers, including lab reports? Take a look at this example: One hundred votes are required to pass the bill. That’s why we wrote this handout. Many passive sentences include the actor at the end of the sentence in a “by” phrase, like “The ball was hit. While you might employ the passive voice to retain objectivity, you can still use active constructions in some instances and retain your objective stance. Alternatively, you could write this sentence with human actors: Researchers have concluded that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. We hope this handout helps you to make them. In some assignments, rather than reporting the results of your own scientific work, you will be writing about the work of other scientists. Does it really matter who’s responsible for the action? The passive voice is thus extremely useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence. Sometimes in academic writing it might be expedient to use the passive Women were not treated as equals. Urbana: NCTE, 1989. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active. Using the active voice in this passage would change the tone of the passage voice in order to avoid naming the 'doer' of an action so that the message It is also In addition to the language features listed above, it is important to be mindful of general word choice as well. When her house was invaded, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her remarriage. A hospital report of yesterday’s events might be more likely to focus on Dr. Jones’ role. If you want to draw attention to the subject of the action, you will use passive voice. Should you indicate him/her/it? The key is to know when your instructor wants you to use the passive voice. of your text is less inflammatory; for example, read the following excerpt: Text from: Jagtenberg, T. & D'Alton, P. (1989) Four dimensional The passive is used to avoid repeated The passive writing voice occurs when something that is ordinarily “done by” the subject of a sentence is “done by” the object of a sentence. The passive voice also tends to use more words than the active voice. For example, the sentence “John is a good student” is not passive; “is” is simply describing John’s state of being. -. Here’s where your choice can be difficult; some instances are less clear than others. For example: The letters are taken to the sorting station. First, let’s be clear on what the passive voice isn’t. Because readers may experience active voice sentences as clearer than passive voice sentences, professional writers are often urged to limit the use of passive voice. 2. The moral of the story: don’t assume that any time you see a form of “have” and a form of “to be” together, you are looking at a passive sentence. Let’s look again at that sentence from a student’s paper on Homer’s The Odyssey: Like many passive constructions, this sentence lacks explicit reference to the actor—it doesn’t tell the reader who or what invaded Penelope’s house. Here are two examples: (passive) Baby Sophia was delivered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday. No matter what field you’re writing in, when you use the passive voice, you risk conveying to your reader a sense of uncertainty and imprecision regarding your writing and thinking. (passive) Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death in the United States. In a passive sentence, the object of the action will be in the subject position at the front of the sentence. New York: Bedford/St. Although more and more scientific journals accept or even prefer first-person active voice (e.g., “then we sequenced the human genome”), some of your instructors may want you to remove yourself from your lab report by using the passive voice (e.g., “then the human genome was sequenced” rather than “then we sequenced the human genome”). Examples It is obvious that it is the author The balloon is positioned in an area of blockage and is inflated. or Tom and Huck are portrayed as… Adapted from Writing with Style by Stott and Avery, 2001, p.54. Don’t worry about the passive if that stress inhibits you in getting your ideas down on paper. 3rd Ed. A number of things are indicated by these results. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Writing Center Academic writing traditionally uses the passive voice so that the use of pronouns is minimised… There is, however, no hard-and-fast rule that says you can never use the active voice in academic writing. Try to put yourself in your reader’s position to anticipate how he/she will react to the way you have phrased your thoughts. of women has largely rested on premises about biological difference The following example, once again from that paper on The Odyssey, typifies another instance where an instructor might desire more precision and clarity: Although Penelope shares heroic characteristics with her husband, Odysseus, she is not considered a hero. The text in the active voice focuses on the 'doers', that is society, The key is to recognize when you should, when you shouldn’t, and when your instructor just doesn’t want you to. Because it’s easy to leave the actor out of passive sentences, some people use the passive voice to avoid mentioning who is responsible for certain actions. 5th Ed. “Politics and the English Language.” London: 1946. As speakers of English, we are able to construct sentences such as: The Prime Minister caused the economic crisis. Traditionally, the passive voice was used in scientific writing, but in recent times, there has been a shift from this trend, with journals and editors increasingly showing a preference for the active voice. writing_center@unc.edu, Hours You decide: Which of these two examples is clearer? (The past participle is a form of the verb that typically, but not always, ends in “-ed.” Some exceptions to the “-ed” rule are words like “paid” (not “payed”) and “driven.” (not “drived”). In this ideology the argument used to sustain the Instead of writing: It is argued that… Passive voice is the preferred style for at least some academic journals, particularly in the physical sciences. Hjortshoj, Keith. The Passive Voice. The tone of the text is also much more political and accusatory: 'Society has ... confined women... Passive: A good time was had by all. and create quite different message. The passive voice in scientific writing. This passive sentence emphasizes the number of votes required. Below, we’ll list some common myths about the passive voice: Use of the passive voice is not a grammatical error. The passive allows you to avoid Actively make choices about its proper place in your writing. The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) Do you use a passive construction in your thesis statement? The passive voice lends an impersonal tone, which is perceived to be formal, but can make the text more wordy and difficult to understand, especially when used in long sentences. You wouldn’t do this, but you can learn how to become a critic of those who exhibit what George Orwell included among the “swindles and perversions” of writing. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. The reader might also conceivably think that the student is referring to critics, scholars, or modern readers of The Odyssey. Other vebs mainly used in the passive are: In academic writing, this type of sentence structure is sometimes useful or necessary. Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. you want readers to focus on the result of an action rather than the person For example, instead of saying: We could say: More examples: reference to the known doer of the action (ie. The first sentence might be more appropriate in a birth announcement sent to family and friends—they are not likely to know Dr. Jones and are much more interested in the “object”(the baby) than in the actor (the doctor). In general terms, it is about separating wrong from right to amend, supplement or revise the manuscript. Sometimes, the confusion is minor. It gives you persuasive power in fewer words than passive voice. If so, you’re not alone. or And then the link between X and Y is made, showing that…. This sentence is passive. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence. Or, to put it in the active voice, teachers and professors across the English-speaking world malign the passive voice as a bad writing habit. For a more general discussion of writing in the sciences, see our handout. The passive voice is used when the person or thing that does the verb is not known or is unimportant so in the passive voice the subject of the sentence is not the agent (doer) of the verb. As discussed above, the sentence will also contain a form of be and a past participle. Awkward or unclear style prevents your reader from appreciating the ideas that are so clear to you when you write. Williams, Joseph. rather than on women, the people acted on by the actions of others. Yet style affects how your reader understands your argument and content. Harper Row: Sydney. The rationale for using the passive voice in scientific writing is that it achieves “an objective tone”—for example, by avoiding the first person. you can heighten the level of your analysis by explicitly connecting an author with these statements: Anderson argues that… In academic writing, only around 25% of all verbs are used in passive voice, with the Natural Sciences and Engineering using it more frequently, and the Humanities using it least. Does the sentence end with “by…”? John Geare provides a specific example for clarity. In both instances, you can easily use active constructions even though you might be tempted by the passive—especially if you’re used to writing your own lab reports in the passive. Pages 119-121. The identity of the This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. With the previous section in mind, you should also know that some instructors proclaim that the passive voice signals sloppy, lazy thinking. Sometimes the passive voice is the best choice. These results indicate a number of things. The primary reason why your instructors frown on the passive voice is that they often have to guess what you mean. Twain portrays Tom and Huck as… Who established marketing links?). In academic writing, passive voice is used to describe a process, the results of study, or similar material which is objective in nature. social paradigm or males. Anson, Chris M. and Robert A. Schwegler. Is he/she/it in the grammatical subject position (at the front of the sentence) or in the object position (at the end of the sentence, or missing entirely)? puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). In the passive writing voice, whatever is doing the action of the sentence is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. London: Pearson, 2006. One type of work group, the semi-autonomous work group. Strunk, William and E.B. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook. London: Longman, 2000. The metropolis has been scorched by the dragon’s fiery breath. But do look for it when you revise. The reader learns little about the systems, conditions, human decisions, and contradictions that produced these groups’ experiences of oppression. Passive Voice Can Be a Powerful Tool. It is irrelevant to the reader Yet consider the third case. Some things here may surprise you. Passive voice – the subject is acted upon.. You will use a variety of tenses when writing … or Further analysis showed/suggested/yielded…. Here are the reasons to know when you should or shouldn’t use the passive voice in academic writing. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. We hope this handout will help you to understand the passive voice and allow you to make more informed choices as you write. However, overusing it can make your writing unclear or convoluted. passive voice is thus extremely useful in academic writing because it If you decide that your sentence would be clearer in the active voice, switch the sentence around to make the subject and actor one. It is often used in academic writing as it is seen as more impersonal and therefore more objective. Plus, marketing links were being established. the observers). Here’s another example, from the same paper, that illustrates the lack of precision that can accompany the passive voice: Gender training was conducted in six villages, thus affecting social relationships. doing the action. But remember, if you do know the actor, and if the clarity and meaning of your writing would benefit from indicating him/her/it/them, then use an active construction. 0127 SASB North Who does not consider Penelope a hero? The Elements of Style. Using “to be” can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice. Many instructors recommend or even require the passive voice in such writing. Passive voice often creates unclear, less direct, wordy sentences, whereas active voice creates clearer, more concise sentences. Or is it the person or thing that has the action done to it? Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. To de-emphasize an unknown subject/actor. Need more help deciding whether a sentence is passive? doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the action. 6th Ed. Not every sentence that contains a form of “have” or “be” is passive! Pages 17-22. While the passive voice can weaken the clarity of your writing, there are times when the passive voice is OK and even preferable. 2. Baron, Dennis. In writing, clarity often comes when you revise, not on your first try. Consider these sentences from papers on American history: The working class was marginalized. Often in academic writing, we don't want to focus on who is The and (active) Dr. Susan Jones delivered baby Sophia at 3:30 a.m. yesterday. This means that it is not always useful to focus on own actions and opinions but instead present something as neutrally as possible. Look for a form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. Using Passive Voice in Scholarly Writing As noted before, passive voice is allowed in APA style and can be quite appropriate, especially when writing about methods and data collection. Writers are often advised to avoid the passive voice, but it is not a grammatical error. This is … This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License. The difference between active voice and passive voice is to do with the relationship of … 3rd Ed. 3. Check your journal's guidelines and don't trust MS Word on this one (unless your journal says no passive voice). If so, what is at the front of the sentence? For example: “The dog was trained by his owner in two weeks.” It is clear that we are emphasizing the dog, not the owner. An active version of the sentence (“The bill requires 100 votes to pass”) would put the emphasis on the bill, which may be less dramatic. Thus knowing how your reader might react enables you to make more effective choices when you revise. We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses (more on that shortly). So what is the passive voice? The first example does not tell who or what leads us to accept this conclusion about heart disease. The last two sentences illustrate a relationship that the first one lacks. Catch passive voice in your writing Grammarly can help you identify passive voice If you don’t see both components, move on. Lanham, Richard. Does the sentence describe an action? Trimble, John R. Writing with Style. In this ideology the argument used to sustain the subjugation Some verbs are commonly used in the passive in academic texts (Hinkel, 2004, p. 166). Their writing is also at risk of being repetitive. There is nothing grammatically or otherwise “wrong” about using the passive voice. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2000. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial. Certain types of writing may require more frequent use of the passive voice. However, students often overuse the passive voice in their writing, which means their … And forms of “be” are not always passive, either—”be” can be the main verb of a sentence that describes a state of being, rather than an action. As such, most scientific journals encourage the use of the active voice over the passive voice .. Here’s a sure-fire formula for identifying the passive voice: form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice. Do any of these misunderstandings sound familiar? Would your reader ask you to clarify a sentence because of an issue related to your use of the passive? They want you to specify who or what is doing the action. passive voice from their writing. However, students often overuse the passive voice in their writing, which means their emphasis in the sentence is not on the action taker. Although many academic writers often favor active voice because it is direct and concise, both voices are useful and necessary. Active voice – the subject acts.. Typically, grammar checkers catch only a fraction of passive voice usage. Let’s briefly look at how to change passive constructions into active ones. Rosen, Leonard J. and Laurence Behrens. within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence. Such sentences lack the precision and connection to context and causes that mark rigorous thinking. 450 Ridge Road By becoming critically aware of how others use language to shape clarity and meaning, you can learn how better to revise your own work. Compare the following two examples from an anthropology paper on a Laotian village to see if you agree. (active) The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party set up a new system of drug control laws. The passive voice is more formal than the active voice. or repetitive to state who the 'doer' of the sentence is: thus the passive To consider scientific writing, let’s break it up into two main types: lab reports and writing about a scientific topic or literature. Where your passive voice in academic writing can be your Friend, ” Declining grammar and Essays. 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