Clear Science Writing: Active Voice or Passive Writing editor? An author may write a sentence in one of two «voices»—active or passive.
The reader knows who is responsible for the action. The results have been analyzed . It is concluded that the treatment is effective. These types of passive-voice sentences are a form of hedging. In addition to being awkward, sentences written in the passive voice, if not constructed carefully, may contain grammatical errors such as dangling modifiers. Dangling: To investigate the source of nutrients, eggshell membranes were compared. Correction: To investigate the source of nutrients, we compared eggshell membranes.
Dangling: After analyzing the samples, the plants were measured daily. Correction: After analyzing the samples, we measured the plants daily. Despite these disadvantages, the passive voice has a legitimate place in writing. In addition to allowing an author to vary the sentence structure, the passive voice has other important functions. To learn more, see «The Value of the Passive Voice. Beginning in about the 1920s, however, these pronouns became less common as scientists adopted a passive writing style.
Considered to be objective, impersonal, and well suited to science writing, the passive voice became the standard style for medical and scientific journal publications for decades. The opening sentence of Watson and Crick’s classic article is simple, direct, and clear. For example, the American Medical Association’s AMA Manual of Style recommends that «in general, authors should use the active voice, except in instances in which the author is unknown or the interest focuses on what is acted upon. The passive voice is acceptable in expository writing and when you want to focus on the object or recipient of the action rather than on the actor. These manuals and other books on science writing recommend using the active voice as much as possible.