I'm an engineering graduate student whose high school English teachers drilled to use active voice. Now that I'm reading and writing technical papers, I can't stand the often ambiguous and verbose passive voice that most peers use to seem "objective".

To use a simple example, writing:

The X experiment was conducted to test for Y.

Instead of

We conducted X experiment to test for Y.

does not change the fact that you conducted said experiment and you are sharing your results and your thoughts on this experiment. Moreover, the simple passive sample uses 11% more space than its active equivalent (45 char vs 40 char), and the difference in length can increases in more complex sentences.

Some publications, like Nature, recognize active's advantages* and encourage active voice. However, the leading publication in my field (and my adviser) only accepts passive voice in its style guide. How would somebody (or some people) amend this requirement to at least accept active voice?

To be clear, I fully realize changing this is beyond the scope of action for a single grad student (I also don't want to "die for this hill"). However, I do want to learn how a publication may come to change its writing requirements.

Professors: think of the active voice's spatial advantages in terms of page limits...

  • 3
    This has been covered in several other questions here. A site search for "passive voice" will turn up a lot of advice. Changing style guides, however, is up to an editorial board of a specific journal. Perhaps asking them would give you some information about the question.
    – Buffy
    Oct 8, 2018 at 17:14
  • 8
    It is a different writing style, that is all. If you had learned technical writing first you would be driven crazy by your English teachers instead. And, as my old APS style guide says, "The passive is often the most natural way to give prominence to the essential facts ... (Who cares who turned the valve?)" - if it indeed matters that you turned the valve, something is wrong with the experiment.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2018 at 17:16
  • Submit to another journal? Oct 8, 2018 at 17:28
  • 1
    @JonCuster "Who cares who turned the valve" exactly, nailed in one, I would suggest this should be an answer, but it would be down to opinion...
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 8, 2018 at 17:38
  • 2
    Note that the APS Style Guide does not ban active voice at all - indeed it says "But avoid the passive if it makes the syntax inelegant or obscure". Yet my English teachers indeed tried to ban use of the passive voice in school compositions even when it made for better sentences. Again, different styles, that is all...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2018 at 18:42


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