The passive engineer
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“The Passive Engineer”. Reported by Austin Fadely. Passive voice (PV) is a specific style of writing. It emphasizes action rather than actors. Passive constructions are a form of the verb “to be” and a past participle. Not many people understand the purpose of passive voice.

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“The Passive Engineer”

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The passive engineer

“The Passive Engineer”

Reported by Austin Fadely


What is passive what is active

Passive voice (PV) is a specific style of writing.

It emphasizes action rather than actors.

Passive constructions are a form of the verb “to be” and a past participle.

Not many people understand the purpose of passive voice.

Active voice (AV) emphasizes actors.

Active constructions are anything that is not a combination of “to be” and a past participle.

What is passive, what is active?


Passive vs active

Passive

i.e.: The ball was thrown (by Tom).

Notice the verb constructions.

Also notice that by Tom is not needed.

You can omit the actor with PV.

Active

i.e.: Tom threw the ball.

Tom is the subject, not the ball.

Emphasis is on actor, not action.

Passive vs. Active


First bad reason to use pv it sounds objective

First bad reason to use PV : “it sounds objective.”

  • Many professions require objectivity, like engineers, scientists and businesspeople

  • But the passive voice can be vague, and it will not hide bad or subjective methods

  • Good writers do not compromise their objectivity by being vague


Second bad reason to use pv i and we sounds unprofessional

Second bad reason to use PV:“I” and “We” sounds unprofessional.

  • Not true, “I” and “We” does not sound unprofessional; just avoid sounding tedious.

  • PV is more of a political tool; it can be used to completely omit the actors.

  • One can use PV to avoid taking responsibility i.e.: “mistakes were made” (PE).


Sometimes it s good to be vague

Sometimes it’s good to be vague

  • There are cases where one wants to be vague; otherwise, we would not have the passive voice.

  • PV can soften harsh or alarming comments.

  • i.e.: “the resume was sent without being proofread” (PE)

  • This sounds less harsh than, “I sent your resume without proofreading it.”


The good reason to use pv emphasize results

The good reason to use PV: emphasize results.

  • Since the subject of PV is always the action, PV can be used to emphasize results.

  • i.e.: I collected the data.

  • vs.: The data were collected.

  • The latter is an example of PV, and it emphasizes “data” rather than “I.”


So when is it okay to use pv

So when is it okay to use PV?

  • 1. When the actor is not important.

  • i.e.: The Statue of Liberty was given to the U.S. (who cares who built it, haha).

  • 2. When you do not know who the actor is.

  • i.e.: The house was robbed last night. (Nobody knows who did it).

  • 3. When the actor wishes to remain nameless.

  • i.e.: $1000 was donated to the sanctuary.


When should pv be avoided

When should PV be avoided?

  • 1. When writing instructions.

  • PV can often be wordy and confusing if it is used too often, as is the case with instructions.

  • It is too easy to lose track of who should do what.

  • i.e.: A is connected to B on apparatus X which is then connected to cord F which is fed into apparatus Q.

  • vs.: Connect A to B; then connect X to cord F, and feed cord F into apparatus Q.


When should pv be avoided1

When should PV be avoided?

  • 2. Do not use “it” constructions like “it should be noted that…, it would seem that…etc….”

  • Using these “it” constructions does not clarify anything; they just take up room and time.


Works cited

Works Cited

  • “The Passive Engineer,” Professional Training Company. Updated: Nov 21, 2005 <http://blackboard.umbc.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab=courses&url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_15124_1>Accessed: Feb. 24, 2006.


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