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Active or passive voice?

Some academic writers feel that the use of the passive voice (verbs which do not indicate who or what is doing the action) can lead to writing in which sources or agents are not clear. Certainly, repeated use of the passive results in texts which are 'flat' and tedious to read.

The difficulty with endless passive sentences is that the reader tends to lose sight of any agent, and the writing becomes dominated by things and concepts instead of people. You may see passive voice dominating in published articles, but this is often for reasons of space. Do not be afraid to use active voice - especially in your Discussion section, where it is sometimes important to indicate that it is you thinking certain things and having particular opinions. In Methods sections of many theses (in Medicine, for example), it is acceptable to break the monotony of many passive voice sentences with some active voice.

Compare the two texts below and decide which you think is preferable.

Passive voice text

The systems most favoured for investment were shown to be planning, design and production. Many manual systems were reported as being current investments across the sector. Only the largest firms, however, showed any degree of interest in integrated systems. Textile and clothing firms, in particular, were seen to be investing in automated production, design, planning and reporting technologies.

Active voice text

Our research has shown that in terms of current investments, manufacturers favoured planning, design and production systems, with firms across the sector reporting investments in a range of manual systems. Only the largest firms, however, showed any degree of interest in integrated systems. We have seen textile and clothing firms, in particular, investing in automated production, design, planning and reporting technologies.

See also the Grammar section on Passive Voice.

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