Difference between revisions of "Active and Passive Voice"

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Latest revision as of 03:04, 11 July 2011


If you write, The robot was taken apart, you are using the passive voice. If, on the other hand, you write, We took the robot apart, you are using the active voice. The first emphasizes the action taken; the second places the emphasis on the one taking the action. The voice you choose depends on the style of your report, and, sometimes, on your audience.

Most good writers primarily use the active voice. It makes for more interesting work. However, technical writing is different. Emphasizing the one doing the action often necessitates using we or I. Many technical organizations think that this reduces a report's objectivity. Avoiding first person pronouns, especially I, is common in technical report writing. However, the American Chemical Society Style Guide says:

Use the active voice when it is less wordy and more direct than the passive:
"The fact that such processes are under strict control is demonstrated by our work in this area."
"Our work in this area demonstrates that such processes are under strict control."

More and more, scientific writing allows for the use of the active voice, and sometimes for first person pronouns. The ACS Style Guide continues by allowing for the use of the first person when it helps to clarify meaning or when you are relating a purpose or decision:

Jones reported xyz, but I (or we) found [...]
My (or Our) recent work demonstrated [...]
To determine the effects of structure on photophysics, I (or we) [...]

Be careful when using first person pronouns not to use phrases like we believe or we feel. These are not objective phrases and are never acceptable in technical writing.

In EG, you must use the passive voice, The robot was taken apart, and not the active voice, We took the robot apart. This is still the most common style chosen by engineers, so use the passive voice. You are also discouraged from using personal pronouns like I and we. Using the passive voice will sometimes cause awkward constructions — you must be careful to avoid these by rephrasing sentences whose syntax is too complicated. Later in the semester, your writing consultant will give you opportunities to write technical reports using the active voice.

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