Active vs. Passive Voice

Technical writing is rife with passive voice, in which an action was done, but the sentence does not say who did it.

 Passive Example:

Thirteen wells were drilled in the southern structure in a five-spot pattern.

If this were written in active voice, the sentence would read:

The Rig No. 1 crew drilled thirteen wells in the southern structure in a five-spot pattern.

Passive voice is good to use when you don’t want to focus on the doer, but rather on the action, as in the case above. Passive voice is particularly good to use in the case of chemistry papers or modeling articles, in which objectivity and professionalism are very important and the focus is on the results. However, having every sentence on the page in passive voice works better than a lullaby at putting the reader to sleep, particularly after a big lunch.

Here are some ways to inject some active voice into your writing:

Passive: Results of the well test are shown in Figure 1.

Active rewrite: Figure 1 shows the well test results.

Passive: The budget must be approved by the engineering manager and chief engineer.

Active rewrite: The engineering manager and chief engineer must approve the budget. 

Passive: It is recommended that these specifications be updated annually.

Active rewrite: We recommend updating these specifications annually.

Another way to make your writing more readable is to vary sentence length, with some longer ones and some shorter ones.

Trivia Question:

What is the average sentence length (number of words) recommended by technical writing experts?

Answer: 25


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