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How To Avoid Passive Voice: Quick Writing Tips

How To Avoid Passive Voice

Have you run your work through a passive voice checker only to find out you have written mostly in passive voice? Thinking about how to avoid passive voice in writing? We would not leave you in the dark about how to fix passive voice. Before the end of this article, you would know what you need to know about passive voice and how to avoid passive voice.

You may already know a few things about active or passive voice. However, since there are a lot of myths associated with the identification of passive voice and how to avoid passive voice. Let’s start by defining the concept of active and passive voice.

What Is Active And Passive Voice?

To answer the question of what is passive voice, you would need to juxtapose active to passive voice. The identification of voice in sentences entirely has to do with the sentence construction. The way the subject and object are positioned to the verb is what determines whether a sentence is in the active voice or passive voice.

In the active voice, the doer of the action the verb represents is in the subject position and the receiver is in the object position. However, the reverse is the case in the passive voice. In passive voice, the subject is the receiver of the action while the object (if present) is in the object position. The difference between active and passive voice is just that simple.

Here are some active vs passive voice examples:

Active Passive
The footballer kicked the ball. The ball was kicked by the footballer.
The pianist sang the song. The song was sung by the pianist.
The writer wrote the book. The book has been written by the writer.
The professor solved the problem The problem was solved by the professor.
Claret will invite Joe to the party. Joe will be invited to the party.

You might have noticed from the passive voice examples that some of the characteristics of passive voice include the ‘to be’ verb forms and the use of ‘by’. However, you should take note of the fact that not every use of ‘to be’ verbs signify passive voice. It is more about sentence construction than the verb used.

Passive Voice In Academic Writing

Before we launch into how to get rid of passive voice, you might have wondered why is it improper to write in passive voice. While passive voice can be intentionally used in creative writing, it is frowned at in most quarters especially in academic writing. Passive voice should be avoided in academic writing for these reasons.

  • Instructors in academic writing will advise you to avoid passive voice because of clarity and meaning. Your sentences get less clear when you write in the passive voice. Your meaning can get lost also as the doer of the action is not obvious in the sentence.

    For example: A new method of sanitation was set up. This passive sentence does not tell you who set up this new method and in a paper, it leaves a question in the mind of the reader which negates the purpose of academic writing. It would be better to write the above sentence as: The Board of Directors set up a new method of sanitation.

  • Passive voice writing gives your work a lazy feel especially when used to summarize literary plots and history. When you use passive voice, your writing reads like you have not taken out time to read up on the necessary information that should be present in your work.

    Continuous use of passive voice makes your work lose precision and context connection. The reader feels like you have not given serious thinking to the ideas you present. Therefore, when summarizing in a literary work or history essay, avoid passive voice as much as you can.

While passive voice is not advisable in academic writing, it is welcomed in scientific writing. Instructors believe that passive voice in scientific writing gives your write up an objective tone due to the elimination of the first person. However, there are ways you can still use the active voice in scientific writing while maintaining an objective tone.

Generally, it is advised that as much as possible, whenever you can, make use of the active voice instead of the passive voice. Below, we have provided some tips on how to avoid using passive voice.

How To Avoid Passive Voice In Academic Writing

There are certain strategies you can employ to reduce passive voice in your academic writing. If you are wondering how to avoid passive voice in academic writing, you can follow these steps.

Step 1: Identify the voice of the sentence

You need to know whether the sentence voice is active or passive. Identification is the first step as it helps you know if you have to change passive voice to active voice in the sentence. To identify the voice you have written the sentence in, take these measures:

  • Check if the verb in the sentence is a ‘to be’ verb + a past participle. Past participle verbs usually end with -ed.
  • Check the verb. Is it an action verb? Are the subject in the front and the object at the end? If it is an action verb and the subject and object are not placed accordingly, it is definitely in the passive voice.
  • Is the ending of a sentence completed with a ‘by… ‘? Most passive sentences are concluded with ‘by + noun phrase’. This indicator is however not as conclusive as using the combination of the above two but it can still be a deciding factor.

Step 2: Evaluate the sentence against the purpose of your writing

You might not be able to eradicate all instances of passive voice in your write up but it is important to evaluate all instances against the purpose of your essay. Not all passive voice will damage the credibility of your work but some can.

  • Is the doer of the action indicated? Is it important that the actor is indicated?
  • Will the reader need you to clarify the sentence due to the absence of a doer?
  • Is the passive voice as a result of trying to summarize a plot or history? Did you use it in describing something?
  • Is the passive voice as a result of trying to emphasize the object?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you will then have to move on to the next step or leave your passive sentences as it is.

Step 3: Change the passive voice to active voice where necessary

If the sentence will be better in the active voice, you should change it. You might wonder, how you can change passive voice sentences to active voice. It is very simple. You just have to switch the positioning of the sentences. Switch the object to the subject position that is the receiver to the end and the actor/doer to the front of the sentence.

Can You Use Grammatical Checker To Reduce Passive Voice?

You can use a grammatical checker to carry out a check my paper for passive voice function. While most grammatical checkers work quite effectively, some just highlight every instance of ‘to be’ verbs which do not necessarily translate passive voice. You can’t just blindly select that all passive voice is changed. Carefully evaluate the sentences before you make any changes. Maybe it’s better to get in touch with reputable editing services, where you can get this work done by humans.

An understanding of passive voice helps you identify it and avoid such sentences when writing especially if it an academic paper. Before you finalize your paper, check your paper in the three steps above for passive voice in the sentences. You can also use a grammatical checker but ensure you evaluate properly.

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