Re: Passive Voice? in Scientific Writing: Explanation

Subject: Re: Passive Voice? in Scientific Writing: Explanation
From: John Ahlstrom <jahlstro -at- CISCO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 1996 11:25:02 -0800

Elaine et al

I think that passive voice in general has had
a bum rap. I think it has both very poor and very
good uses. I think some of the
required uses (as in scientific journal style) are
among the very poor uses.

The poorest use that I can think of I call the
pusillanimous passive -- using passive to avoid
assigning responsibility:
In Washington today, Social Security was killed.

Among the best uses is one I call the emphatic passive--
placing the most important part of the sentence, the
topic, at the front and then using passive voice:
Deadly radioactive waste will be released if
the coolant is not maintained.

(This makes "deadly radioactive waste" the most
important part of the sentence. If you or the author
believes that
maintaining coolant is the important part, you will
put that first and not have to use passive. BUT it
should be the judgement about what is important that
guides the sentence structure, not shibboleths or
superstitions about using passive voice.)

John Ahlstrom
"When a language critic complains about a word or construction, you can
be fairly certain that the target expression has already become common
enough to be considered standard and correct, and that if you read or
listen long enough, you will find the offending bit of language in the
language critic's speech or writing."
Dennis Baron
Guide to Home Language Repair


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