Using the active vs. passive voice in science writing

When writing your academic article, it is important not only to think carefully about what you say, but also how you say it. Through editing many, many articles, I’ve noticed that the passive voice is sometimes used entirely throughout the article. While it is best to avoid opinionated statements (such as I think) in a scientific article, sometimes rewriting a sentence into the active voice (even when it uses I or we) is easier to understand.

Let’s back up a bit though and talk about active and passive voice in more detail. In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. In a sentence written in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.

Now, let’s look at an example of the same sentence written in the active voice and in the passive voice.

A pollination biology study was conducted from March 15, 2012 through March 28, 2012 on the outskirts of Weixi City, Yunnan Province, China. (Passive Voice)

We conducted a pollination biology study from March 15, 2012 through March 28, 2012 on the outskirts of Weixi City, Yunnan Province, China. (Active Voice)

I encourage you to not be afraid of using the active voice! Your homework for today is to rewrite one of the sentences in your academic article in active voice. Feel free to share the changes in the comments or ask questions if you are unsure.