Passive Voice? in Scientific Writing

Subject: Passive Voice? in Scientific Writing
From: "Elaine R. Firestone" <elaine -at- CALVAL -dot- GSFC -dot- NASA -dot- GOV>
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 1996 13:00:19 -0500

Hi all! (Forgive the cross-postings.) I deal with mostly scientists here
at NASA who almost always write in passive voice. As much as possible, I
change it ("it has been noted" gets changed to "it was noted", etc.).
This is fine when the author is clearly writing about something that
happened in the past. I often get manuscripts in, however, where the
author is talking about something that happened before, is happening now,
and/or will be happening in the future.

Scientists often used "has been" or "have been" to denote something that
happened in the past but didn't happen all the time, i.e., it's a nuance of
meaning. "Was" and "were" seem to be more definitive, as when they mean
"it always happened this way."

My questions are to everyone who deals with this sort of writing:

How do you deal with this issue? Do you leave it "as is" when it's clear
that the author means "it happened this way but not all the time"? Or do
you change it no matter what? If you change it---how?

In our style, we do not use first person at all, so please don't give
suggestions using this. Any ideas would really be appreciated.



Elaine R. Firestone
elaine -at- calval -dot- gsfc -dot- nasa -dot- gov
elaine -at- seawifs -dot- gsfc -dot- nasa -dot- gov

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