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Point of View in Writing and the Active/Passive Voice A dopted from College Writing Skills by John Langan, Purdue OWL , and The Bedford Handbook for Writers by Diana Hacker. Point of View
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Point of View in Writing and the Active/Passive VoiceAdopted from College Writing Skills by John Langan, Purdue OWL, and The Bedford Handbook for Writers by Diana Hacker Point of View When you write, you can take any of three approaches, or points of view: first-person, second-person, or third person.
First-Person Approach • This is a strongly individualized point of view—you draw on your own experience and speak to your audience in your own voice, using pronouns like I, me, mine, we, our, and us. • This approach emphasizes you, the writer and is a good choice for informal letters and writing based primarily on personal experience.
Example: First –Person Point of View Paragraph on Camping First of all, I like comfort when I’m camping. My GMC motor home, with its completely equipped kitchen, shower stall, toilet, double bed, and color television, resembles a mobile motel room. I can sleep on a real mattress, clean sheets, and fluffy pillows. Next to my bed are devices that make me feel at home: a radio, an alarm clock, and a TV remote-control unit. Unlike the poor campers huddled in tents, I don’t have to worry about cold, rain, heat, or annoying insects. After a hot shower, I can slide into my pajamas, sit comfortably on my down-filled quilt, and read the latest best-seller while a thunderstorm booms outside.
Second-Person Approach • In this approach, the writer speaks directly to the reader, using the pronoun you. • This approach emphasizes the reader and • works well for giving advice, instructions, or explaining how to do something. • Otherwise, as a general rule, never use the word you in writing.
Third-Person Approach • This approach is the most common point of view in academic writing. • In the third-person, the writer includes no direct references to the reader (you) or the self (I, me). It derives its name from its stance—that of an outsider or third-person observing and reporting on matters of public rather than private importance. • This approach emphasizes the subject and draws on information that the writer has acquired through observation, thinking, or reading. It is appropriate in formal academic and professional writing.
Example: Third-Person Point of View Paragraph on Camping First of all, modern campers bring complete bedrooms with them. Winnebagoes, GMC motor homes, and Airstream trailers lumber into America’s campgrounds every summer like mobile motel rooms. All the comforts of home are provided inside. Campers sleep on real mattresses with clean sheets and fluffy pillows. Next to their beds are the same gadgets that litter their night tables at home—radios, alarm clocks, and TV remote –control units. It’s not necessary for them to worry about annoyances like cold, heat, rain, or buzzing insects. They can sit comfortably in bed and read the latest best-sellers while a thunderstorm booms outside.
Coherence suffers whenever a draft shifts confusingly from one point of view to another. The solution is to choose a suitable perspective and then stay with it.
Example 1: One week our class met in a junkyard to practice rescuing a victim trapped in a wrecked car. We learned to dismantle the car with the essential tools. You (We) were graded on your (our) skill in extricating the victim.
Example 2: One of the fringe benefits of my job is that you (I) can use a company credit card for gasoline.
Shifting Point of View Activity • 1. Ron refuses to eat pepperoni pizza because he says it gives you (him) indigestion. • 2. When I buy lipstick or nail polish, you (I) never know how the color will actually look. • 3. All you (I) could hear was the maddening rattle of the heating registers, even though I buried my face in the pillow. • 4. Hank searched the roadside mailboxes for the right name, but you (he) couldn’t see much in the pouring rain. • 5. As we pulled on the heavy door, you (we) could tell it wasn’t going to budge.
Active Verbs (Active Voice) Versus Passive Verbs (Passive Voice) • Active verbs express meaning more emphatically and vigorously than their weaker counterparts—forms of the verb be or verbs in the passive voice. • Forms of the verb be (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) lack vigor because they convey no action. • Verbs in the passive voice lack strength because their subjects receive the action instead of doing it.
Example: Passive: The coolant pumps were destroyed by a surge of power. Active: A surge of power destroyed the coolant pumps.
Furthermore, carefully selected verbs can energize a piece of writing.
Example: Original: The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net. Revised: The goalie crouched low, swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.
Example: Original: Burying nuclear waste in Antarctica would be in violation of an international treaty. Revised: Burying nuclear waste in Antarctica would violate an international treaty.
Prefer Active Voice • In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. • In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. • Although both voices are grammatically correct, the active voice is usually more effective because it is simpler, more direct, and less wordy. • Example 1: Active: The committee reached a decision. • Example 2: Passive: A decision was reached by the committee.
To change a sentence from the passive to the active voice, determine carefully who or what is performing the action. Example: Passive: The book is being read by most of the class. Active: Most of the class is reading the book.
Sometimes the performer of the action does not appear in a passive-voice sentence. Example: Passive: Results will be published in the next issue of the journal. Active: The researchers will publish their results in the next issue of the journal.
Choosing Passive Voice • In scientific writing, passive voice is more readily accepted since using it allows one to write without using personal pronouns or the names of particular researchers. • This practice helps to create the appearance of an objective, fact-based paper.
Recognizing Passive Voice Passive voice has three basic characteristics: • A form of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, be, been, or being). • A past participle (a verb ending in “ed” or “en” except irregular verbs like kept). • A prepositional phrase beginning with “by.”
Examples: The first sentence uses all three characteristics: The meeting is being held by the human resources department. It’s a great honor to be applying to a prestigious company.
Unnecessary Shifts • Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive.
Example: Original: Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently. Revised: Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter, but they still ordered it frequently.