Re: passive voice

Subject: Re: passive voice
From: Jay Cherniak <CHERNJC1_at_TEAPOST -at- TEOMAIL -dot- JHUAPL -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 5 Dec 1994 15:38:44 EST

I worked as an editor in the publications department of a large federal R&D
contractor laboratory in California for many years. For things that the
laboratory published itself, such as annual reports and marketing pieces, we
were big on active voice. Supervisors and lead editors would routinely correct
editors who did not use active voice in abstracts and introductions of annual
reports. Authors almost always accepted our rewrites into active voice. In the
case of preparing proceedings papers, internal documents, and papers for
submission to journals, however, we usually did not bother to rewrite into
active: journal papers because perusal of back issues showed that the journals
always used passive voice, and proceedings papers and internal documents
because the audiences are small, so why bother to rewrite.
One author said something I never forgot. He said that passive voice is a
holdover from an earlier era in the history of science, when it was important
to show that nature behaved independently of humans. People who still use
passive voice in scientific writing, he said, are trying to prove something
that no longer needs to be proved.
When I was a new editor I mechanically changed things into active voice,
but as the years passed I tired of active voice, and often found it artificial.
Now passive voice doesn't bother me much. I guess I've come full circle.

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