Business Writing Tip #88—When to Use the Passive

I know that in previous posts I’ve suggested that it is usually best to write in the active voice rather than the passive voice. But there are some exceptions. There are some times when the passive is most appropriate, so this post is about them.

In Advertising

The passive can be used to make sure the product is the focus of attention.

Our sportswear is tested by robots and worn by international sporting champions.

In Scientific Texts

But please note that the trend in scientific writing, thankfully, is to use the active voice. In Writing for the Sciences, an online course offered by Stanford University, the course instructor writes:

  1. The active voice is livelier and easier to read
  2. It is a myth that avoiding first-person pronouns lends objectivity to the paper.
    1. You (or your team) ran the experiments and interpreted the data. To imply otherwise is misleading.
    2. The experiments and analysis did not materialize out of thin air! (e.g., “the data were interpreted to show”).
  3. By agreeing to be an author on the paper, you are taking responsibility for its content. Thus, you should also claim responsibility for the assertions in the text by using “we” or “I.”

When the agent is unknown, is not important or is obvious from the context

The wheel was invented about 5000 years ago.french road

To avoid the overuse or repetition of personal pronouns or vague words such as “people”

The motorway is being repaired and should be avoided for the next two weeks.

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