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Old 10-15-2004, 06:29 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Active vs Passive Voice

I'm in the process of improving my writing skills for the sake of my GPA and my education. So recently I've discovered that my papers are written almost entirely in passive voice. Any advice on how to change my writing style from passive to active voice?
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Old 10-15-2004, 09:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The key is being aware of using the passive voice. Just read over a draft of your paper, and mark where you use the passive voice. It's dumb that English teachers care so much about it (at least you're using the grammar correctly), but your arguments will get stronger when you switch the sentences to the active voice.

f.y.i., this is expert writing advice coming from a science major. So if someone else posts, listen to them.
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Old 10-15-2004, 11:34 PM   #3 (permalink)
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It's easy to notice passive vs. active voice once you become familiar with it. Here's an example:

Active: "John threw the ball."
Passive: "The ball was thrown by John."

Basically passive voice beats around the bush before getting to the main subject of the sentence (John, in this example). Active voice works better in most cases because it's more direct, to the point, and easier to follow.
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Old 10-16-2004, 06:07 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Be careful, though. Although the trend at the moment is toward the active voice, there are still plenty of older academics around, particularly in the 'hard' sciences, who are attached to their passive voices. If your lecturers don't tell you exactly what they want, it's worth taking the 20 seconds to ask them after class which they prefer.
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Old 10-16-2004, 12:38 PM   #5 (permalink)
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1. Ignore the older academics.

2. Active voice rules. Ask any technical writer.

Active voice avoid errors when you describe a complex action or process and when you provide instructions.

Passive and third-person writing styles may work for writing personnel reviews, but that is about the only place they work. Active voice reduces "gray areas" and assigns responsiblity.
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Old 10-16-2004, 11:48 PM   #6 (permalink)
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After writing your paper, scan for any signs of passive voice and then just try to rewrite the sentence. Eventually you should become aware that you are typing "was" and it will become instinct to stop mid sentence and change it.

Oh, and make sure that you didn't write any of those nasty passive lab reports right before the english paper...
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Old 10-17-2004, 01:24 AM   #7 (permalink)
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You're right, Tropple, any good technical writer will tell you that the active voice rules. Unfortunately, however, there are some old stooges (they particularly tend to accumulate around Physics buildings) who still insist on the passive voice, and if they're marking your papers, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and use it.

Soma, if you're using *shudder* Word, the word count feature will give you the proportion of passive sentences in your paper. It's OK to have a couple (some sentences just look stupid when you make them active voice), but if a large proportion of your paper is active voice, it's probably time to go back, revise, and check the word count again.
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Old 10-17-2004, 01:40 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Does it really matter? No, because I still made my arguments but got a D on the paper.
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Old 10-17-2004, 02:56 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Use brevity whenever possible. Look at these two arguments, and decide which one is stronger:
Argument A: "I think that we should all get together and start a revolution!"
Argument B: "We should start a revolution!"
Of course the answer is Spoiler: Argument B.
Phrases to really avoid: "I think that...", "We should all get together and...", and anything else that makes your sentences longer and more drawn out than they should be.
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Old 10-17-2004, 06:59 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Watch the evening news. It's almost always written in the active voice
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Old 10-17-2004, 01:05 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Watch the evening news. It's almost always written in the active voice
Yeah. They just use the word "allegedly" to make it active.
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