I realize writing in active vs passive voice is a heated debate in academia, with arguments being made for and against both styles. My adviser prefers passive voice.. But is it acceptable to switch from passive to active voice in the same paragraph? What about different sections? For example, the intro and literature review in passive voice, but switching to active voice for materials and methods section. Is this a big no no?


5 Answers 5


"I realize..."


"arguments being made..."


My point here is that it's normal to switch. It's probably a good idea to favour one or the other, but I imagine you would have a lot of difficulty using only the active voice or only the passive voice throughout a paper. Don't worry about it too much.


It is perfectly normal to use both in the same sentence:

John stepped in front of the window and was immediately shot.

The continuum hypothesis implies that the continuum is not a measurable cardinal as was shown by Stanislav Ulam.

The lump of lead turned to gold after being prepared by a senior alchemist.

The point is that you may want to focus on $X$, but sometimes $X$ is "doing" something and sometimes $X$ is influenced by, say, $Y$. If you want to keep the focus on $X$ and not shift to $Y$, it makes sense to combine the passive and the active voice. This makes the writing actually more coherent, not less.


You should write your paper in a consistent form. I personally prefer the active voice as well, but if your supervisor prefers passive... well then you will have to make the best of it or argument with him.

Try to be specific within paragraphs or connected sentences. If you have an example that you were doubting about, perhaps you can post it here and we will have a look.

But in general: no.

  • 1
    I switch all the time in my papers. It makes the text more interesting and less repetitive, e.g. "We fit model X to the data. Parameters Y and Z were fixed to values of 1 and 2, respectively.".
    – xioxox
    Dec 17, 2014 at 12:45

I believe it is acceptable to switch from passive to active voice according to the way the thoughts come to our mind. This way we do write exactly what we want to express. Sometimes when we try to use one or the other style we write in a "mechanical" way.


You can switch between active and passive, but the switch should not be jarring. A good reference on active vs passive is:


Which argues that the choice between the active and passive voice is determined in any given sentence by what is in the stress and topic positions of the sentence. The TLDR is:

The simple rule is this: Topic and stress trump active and passive. If the topic is the actor, use active voice. If the topic is being acted upon, use passive voice.

Personally in my science writing, I tend to favor the active voice unless it really is easier to write a sentence in passive, in which case I do.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .