A major decision that troubles millions of researchers worldwide is whether to use the active or passive voice in writing research.
Generally, many of us are taught in school that avoiding passive voice is essential to writing any paper, be it an essay, a speech, a report, an article, a journal, or a research paper. This is often because the active voice emphasizes the subject providing quick sentences and clearer arguments.
Avoiding passive voice and using only active voice in research papers can be difficult. So we’ll take you through some guidelines on how to get rid of passive voice and create stronger sentences.
Passive voice in research papers
As we mentioned earlier, using passive voice in general writing is commonly frowned upon. However, numerous research papers still use passive voice in writing. And while a general rule against passive writing exists, there are subtle differences in application.
Surprisingly, using only one voice pattern or construction can make research papers awkward to read and digest. This can also confuse readers about the crucial aspects of a study. So, in essence, there are times when an author must choose the passive voice over the active voice and vice versa.
How to change passive voice to active voice
The subtle changes in the subject and object position of a sentence give birth to the active and passive voice. The active voice controls the agent of the action, which can be the subject or object performing the action.
Here’s an example of the active voice: “We bought the gray umbrellas.”
The subject pronoun “we” begins the sentence, preceding a strong action and leading straight to the object action, “the gray umbrellas“. This sentence format places more emphasis on the agent of the action than the object, “the gray umbrellas“.
The passive voice, in comparison, emphasizes the object receiving the action. For example: “Gray umbrellas were bought by us.”
In this example, “gray umbrellas” stand out as the major element in the sentence. When learning how to fix passive voice sentences, you need to understand the positions of the object and subject and their strengths.
To change the passive to active voice in this case, simply revert to the original sentence. This means we’ll emphasize “we” instead of “gray umbrellas“. This method can be applied to changing various passive sentences to active ones when writing.
In rare cases, passive voice constructions are shorter and even stronger than active ones. That’s why many scientific manuscripts still increasingly favor passive-voice construction. The aim, in truth, is to pass a clear message to the reader. However, more often than not, the active voice is the better option.
How to avoid writing in passive voice
You’re probably wondering how to get rid of passive voice or avoid passive voice in your writing practice. And now that we’ve covered how to distinguish between passive vs. active voice, it’ll be easier to avoid it in your research writing.
Certain measures can be used to eliminate passive voice in academic writing. Here are some of them below:
- Always identify the voice of the sentence
This is the most straightforward method to avoid writing in a passive voice. You must always confirm whether a sentence’s voice is active or passive. Identification is the initial step to fixing a passive voice construction. It helps you know if you need to change passive voice to active voice in the first place, as well as aid the changing process.
You can identify the voice of a sentence by checking if the verb in the sentence is a ‘to be’ verb and a past participle.
- Compare the sentence with your writing purpose
This is another important method that can help deal with the most passive voice in your writing. You may not completely remove all aspects of passive voice in your paper, but you can evaluate all sentences against the purpose of your essay. Sometimes, not every passive voice limits the fluidity of your work.
- Use writing tools to change passive voice to active voice where needed
If a sentence is stronger in the active voice, you should always use it. However, if you make a few slip-ups from time to time, you can use quality writing tools to change passive voice sentences to active voice.
Like most processes in the writing world, mastering the act of active voice writing comes down to practice. As you continue to write and review your work, you’ll naturally get better and better at limiting passive voice usage. And if you need some help through the process, you can use grammar checker tools that offer a passive voice checker.