Using passive voice in writing: Guidelines and examples


The use of passive voice in writing is often discussed among writers and educators. While it’s commonly recommended to use active voice for clarity and engagement, the passive voice holds its unique place, especially in academic writing. This article delves into the complexities of passive voice, offering guidelines and examples to help writers understand when and how to effectively use it. Whether you’re preparing a research paper, a report, or any other written piece, understanding the nuances of passive voice can significantly improve the quality and impact of your writing.

Passive voice: Definition and usage in writing

In passive voice constructions, the focus shifts from the one performing the action to the recipient. This means that in a sentence, the subject is the recipient of the action rather than the performer. A passive sentence typically employs the ‘to be’ verb along with a past participle to construct its form.

Example of active voice:

  • The cat chases the mouse.

Example of passive voice:

  • The mouse is chased by the cat.

A key feature of passive voice is that it can leave out who is doing the action, especially if that person or thing is unknown or not important to the topic.

Example of passive construction without the actor:

  • The mouse is chased.

While passive voice is often prevented in favor of the more direct and engaging active voice, this is not incorrect. Its use is especially prevalent in academic and formal writing, where it can serve specific purposes, such as highlighting the action or the object affected by it. However, using passive voice too much can make writing unclear and confusing.

Key considerations for using passive voice:

  • Focus on the action or object. Use passive voice when the action or its receiver is more important than who or what is performing the action.
  • Unknown or unspecified actors. Use passive constructions when the actor is unknown or their identity is not crucial to the sentence’s meaning.
  • Formality and objectivity. In scientific and formal writing, the passive voice can add a level of objectivity by removing the subject’s power.

Remember, the choice between active and passive voice should be guided by clarity, context, and the writer’s purpose.


Choosing active voice over passive

Generally, it’s advisable to opt for active voice in sentences, as it often makes them clearer and more direct. Passive voice can sometimes hide who is performing the action, reducing clarity. Consider this example:

  • Passive: The project was completed last week.
  • Active: The team completed the project last week.

In the passive sentence, it’s unclear who completed the project. The active sentence, however, clarifies that the team was responsible. Active voice tends to be more straightforward and concise.

Active voice can be particularly effective in research or academic contexts. It clearly attributes actions or findings, improving credibility and precision. For example:

  • Passive (less clear): Findings were published regarding the new scientific discovery.
  • Active (more precise): Professor Jones published findings on the new scientific discovery.

The active sentence specifies who published the findings, adding clarity and attribution to the statement.

In summary, while passive voice has its place, active voice often provides a clearer and more concise way to share information, especially in contexts where the actor’s identity is crucial to the message.

Effective use of passive voice in writing

Passive voice plays a unique role in academic writing, particularly when the use of first-person pronouns is restricted. It allows for the description of actions or events while keeping an objective tone.

Active voice using first-person pronounsPassive voice using first-person pronouns
I analyzed the results of the experiment.The results of the experiment were analyzed.
Our team developed a new algorithm.A new algorithm was developed by the team.

In academic contexts, the passive voice helps keep a focus on the action or result rather than the actor. It’s especially useful in scientific writing where the process or outcome is more important than the person performing the action.

Considerations for using passive voice effectively:

  • Avoid unclear phrases. Guarantee that passive sentences are clearly structured and make the intended message obvious.
  • Appropriateness. Use it when the actor is not known or their identity is not essential to the context of your writing.
  • Clarity in complex sentences. Be careful with complex structures in passive voice to keep clarity.
  • Strategic focus. Use it to highlight the action or object, like in “Several experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis.”
  • Objective tone. Employ it for an impersonal, objective tone, which is often preferred in academic writing.
  • Necessity and commitment. When using verbs like “require” or “need,” the passive voice can effectively express a general necessity, as in “Further analysis is required to conclude the study.”

While passive is often less direct than active voice, it has important applications in academic and formal writing where neutrality and focus on the subject matter are necessary.


Balancing passive and active voices

Effective writing often involves a strategic balance between passive and active voices. While the active voice is generally preferred for its clarity and dynamism, there are examples where the passive voice is more fitting or even necessary. The key is to recognize the strengths and appropriate contexts for each.

In narrative or descriptive writing, the active voice can bring energy and immediacy, making the text more engaging. However, in scientific or formal writing, the passive voice can help keep objectivity and focus on the subject matter rather than the author. To strike a balance:

  • Identify the purpose. Consider the goal of your writing. Is it to persuade, inform, describe, or narrate? The purpose can guide your choice between passive and active voices.
  • Consider your audience. Tailor your voice to the expectations and preferences of your audience. For example, a technical audience might prefer the formality and objectivity of the passive voice.
  • Mix and match. Don’t be afraid to use both voices in the same piece. This can add variety and nuance, making your writing more universal and adaptable.
  • Review for clarity and impact. After writing, review your work to guarantee that the voice used in each sentence or section contributes to the overall clarity and impact of the piece.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule in writing. The effective use of passive and active voices depends on context, purpose, and style. By understanding and mastering this balance, you can improve the expressiveness and effectiveness of your writing.

Additionally, to ensure your writing is not only effective in voice but also flawless in its presentation, consider using proofreading services. Our platform offers expert proofreading to help refine your academic or professional documents, ensuring they are clear, error-free, and impactful. This extra step can be important in enhancing the quality of your writing and making a strong impression on your audience.


This exploration into the passive voice clearly shows its important role in different writing contexts. While active voice is usually preferred for being direct and clear, using passive voice carefully can greatly improve academic and formal writing. It’s about choosing the right tool for the right task – using passive to highlight actions or outcomes and active voice to emphasize actors or agents. Embracing this understanding not only refines a writer’s skill set but also improves their ability to communicate effectively and adapt across different writing scenarios. Ultimately, this knowledge is a key tool for any writer, leading to more detailed, effective, and audience-focused writing.

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