What's the Problem With Passive Voice?
Thursday, December 05, 2013 Passive Voice
Regular readers of the Walden Writing Center blog will know that we’ve written about passive voice before. As Rachel pointed out in her blog post, passive voice constructions are grammatically correct. So why does APA prefer active voice? Why do instructors urge students to change “a study was conducted” to “I conducted a study?”
Getting an answer can sometime seem as vague as the tasting notes on a fine bottle of wine. Strunk and White wrote that passive voice is “less bold” while active voice is more “vigorous” and “direct” (p. 18). But again, students may raise the question: Why is passive voice less bold and vigorous? And what are the factors that make it so?
But it’s not just a lack of accountability that leads APA and others to prefer active voice constructions. APA also addresses economy of expression, reminding writers that “short words and short sentences are easier to comprehend than are long ones” (p. 67). Because of the structure of passive voice and the inclusion of an auxiliary verb, passive voice constructions are almost always longer than active voice ones.
When he's not helping Walden students write to the best of their abilities, Writing Instructor Jonah Charney-Sirott enjoys writing fiction.