Active Vs. Passive Voice II

Dr. Monal Desai and Akanksha Tripathi

This handout deals with the usage of Active and Passive Voice in academic writing.

Introduction:

Use of Passive Voice is quite common among non-native speakers or beginners. They tend to write in passive voice which leads to wordiness. Once pointed out by the Professors/Reviewers/Facilitators/Moderators/TAs at the Writing Studio, the writer/speaker converts the sentences into active voice but this may often read a touch affected.

Many academicians emphasize the use of Active Voice as it is able to form pithy sentences. It is advisable that one strikes a proper balance between the use of Active and Passive Voices. Grammarly and Word Checker only highlight passive sentences and leave it on the discretion of the user to change the structure of the sentence.

A recent development, in the field of scientific writing, encourages the writers to use Active Voice for its direct and personal appeal. Passive Voice results in a more formal and impersonal tone. This preference for Active Voice is based on the assumption that the journals should be more readable and acceptable, even amongst non-specialists. Although earlier, the use of Pronouns in scientific writings was considered taboo. Nowadays, they are encouraging the use of pronouns such as I, We, and so on.

Where are Active and Passive Voices used in academic writing?

It is advisable to use Active Voice in the introduction, discussion, and concluding sections of thesis/ research paper/ dissertation/poster.

While introducing the topic:

  • The topic which I propose for my research is: “Relevance of the Poetry of Kamla Das, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou & Sylvia Plath at School Level – Sensitising Students about the Gender-Related Issues in Indian Context”

Another example where Active Voice can be used is: discussing the gap in the previous studies and one’s own area of research. For example,

  • In the literature review, I found a huge gap in the study of ‘Gender Inequality’ at the school level. This gap encouraged me to take this up as the topic of my study.

Whereas Passive Voice should be used in the method or result sections of thesis/ research paper/ dissertation/poster.

Examples:

  • Therefore, numerical modelling is used to compute the metallurgical variables such as temperature tribution and molten pool size by varying numerous parameters.
  • It was also observed that the Ni-Ti alloy had roughness similar to Cp Ti and Ti-6Al-4V showed better proliferation rate than Ti alloy.

Reasons for the use of Active Voice:

1.Emphasis on Doer: When the emphasis is given more on the doer than the receiver of the action Active Voice is used.

‘India successfully launches the first mission to Mars.’ Here the emphasis is on the doer, i.e., the country than the action of launching mission to Mars.

2.To Avoid Wordiness: Use of Active Voice is encouraged for its precision. The case made against Passive Voice is that it leads to wordiness.

 ‘The first mission to Mars was successfully launched by India.’

Reasons for the use of Passive Voice:1

1. To break the monotony in the paragraph: Variety is the spice of writing. If too many sentences are in Active, it would be a suitable space to use Passive Voice and avoid monotony.

Example:

  • In the literature review, I found a huge gap in the study of ‘Gender Inequality’ at school level. This encouraged me to take this up as the topic of my study. The topic which I propose for my research is – “Relevance of Poetry of  Kamla Das, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou & Sylvia Plath at School Level – Sensitising Students about the Gender-Related Issues in Indian Context.” For carrying out the study, four schools were chosen.

The first three sentences are in Active Voice. To bring variety to the paragraph, the fourth sentence has been written in Passive voice.

2.Emphasis on Action: Passive Voice is used where action needs to be emphasized than the doer.

  • The  World Wide Web was invented in 1989.

Here the sentence suggests that invention time of ‘WWW’ is more important than who invented it.

So the passive sentence focuses on when ‘WWW’ is invented, rather than who invented it.

3.For Organic Unity: In several cases, Passive Voice is recommended to bring organic unity to the sentences.

  • The researcher observed that the cell aligned along the axis of the groove on a rough surface than a polished one. He also observed that the Ni-Ti alloy, having roughness similar to Cp Ti and Ti-6Al-4V showed better proliferation rate than Ti alloy.
  • It was observed that the cell aligned more along the axis of the groove on a rough surface than a polished surface. It was also observed that the Ni-Ti alloy having roughness similar to Cp Ti and Ti-6Al-4V showed better proliferation rate than Ti alloy.

The sentences in the first paragraph seem to be isolated in comparison to the second paragraph

4. To Create Curiosity: In creative writing, Passive Voice is used to heighten the element of curiosity.

  • ‘They were tan boots and had never been varnished.’ -The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

5.Used by Journalists: Newspaper headlines are always written in Passive Voice because news reporting is all about actions taking place around the world.

  • ‘Mysterious Footprints Of ‘Yeti’ Was Sighted By Indian Army’- ABP News

Now that we have discussed the usage of Active and Passive voices, a question arises about which voice is more appropriate in academic writing.

The debate is where to use what. There is no watertight compartment for the use of Active and Passive Voices. Whatever one uses, sentences should be intelligible. In academic writing, it also depends on which part/section of the writing you are in and what is the aim of your writing. Do you want to emphasize your efforts or project yourself as an achiever?