Which is better?
- The passive voice is a grammatical construct that you should not use.
- You should not use the passive voice.
We can see which one has the smaller word count and is easier to say without pausing for breath. It's also the one where the words strike you as being "in order." The doer (subject), what he's doing (verb), what he's doing it to (object).
Writing should be mostly in the active voice, for ease of writing, reading, and understanding. A paper written entirely in the passive voice would be difficult to read and remember, and it might put a reader to sleep.
- Passive (weak): An appendectomy was performed.
- Active (better): We performed the appendectomy.
- Passive (weak): The thigh is then abducted and the "clunk" of the femoral head reduction is felt.
- Active (better): Abduct the thigh to feel for the "clunk" of the femoral head reduction.
So when is the passive voice appropriate and useful? When you need to emphasize the action or the object of the action rather than the doer. Like in these examples:
- The patient has been shot in the abdomen.
In this case, who did the shooting is not relevant medical information. If you're the surgeon, all you care about is the wound.
- An 18-gauge needle is inserted through the skin wound and advanced through the renal parenchyma.
The emphasis here is on method. These words are teaching somebody how to do a medical procedure, so all you care about is the procedure.
Well, honestly, I might write Insert an 18-gauge needle through the skin wound and advance it through the renal parenchyma because it's still emphasizing the method rather than the doer, but you get the idea.
Updated May 26, 2017
© Copyright 2000-2017, Michael LaRocca
Durham, North Carolina 27707