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The Passive Engineer. Victoria Griffin. The Passive Engineer. Engineers and scientists value objectivity. They do not want their data contaminated by biases. The Passive Engineer. What is the passive construction?

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the passive engineer

The Passive Engineer

Victoria Griffin

the passive engineer1
The Passive Engineer
  • Engineers and scientists value objectivity.
  • They do not want their data contaminated by biases.
the passive engineer2
The Passive Engineer
  • What is thepassive construction?
    • The passive construction inverts the active word order to emphasize what happens, rather than who did it.
      • Ex. The computer was repaired.
Question ?
  • 1. Why do engineers write in the passive voice?
  • 2. How can we avoid this?

Bill H., PE

  • Answer
  • Engineers use the passive voice for three reasons:
    • 1. The passive voice objective
    • 2. Using I or WE sounds unprofessional
    • 3. The passive voice emphasizes results
the passive engineer3
The Passive Engineer
  • Two of these reasons are based on bad logic.
    • Objectivity is the ability to perceive or describe something without being influenced by personal emotions or prejudices

If writers use objective methods to collect and analyze data and work honestly and carefully

then, their work is objective. Moreover, if their work is sloppy, then it is not objective

the passive engineer4
The Passive Engineer
  • Using the passive voice cannot rectify slanted or inadequate work.
  • Using “I” or “we” Sounds unprofessional
    • This reason is unsound because using personal pronouns does not, in itself, make writing subjective or unprofessional.
    • In politics, avoiding I or WE is a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility.
    • In the corporate sector, avoiding it is a way to evade sounding uppity
a good reason to use the passive
A Good Reason to Use the Passive
  • Scientific and technical report writing requires using the passive voice. These reports emphasize results and the objects of actions.
  • The actor (who produced the results or acted on the object) is less important.
  • Without the passive construction, report writers would emphasize the wrong information
when is it right to use the passive
When you want to emphasize results


Our clients followed our advice.

{The emphasis falls on “our clients”}


Our advice was followed by our clients

{The emphasis falls on “Our advice“}

When the sentence does not need an actor

When the actor is not important (“ The solution was heated to 100°”).

When the actor is unknown (“The jewelry has been stolen”).

When you do not wish to name the actor (“One thousand dollars has been contributed”).

When is it right to use the passive?
when is the passive the wrong choice
When is the passive the wrong choice?
  • When you write instructions.
    • When writing instructions, the focus is on the action and must indicate the actor.
    • The passive construction produces vague and confusing instructions.
      • Ex. Passive: It should be noted that any change to the procedure must be recorded in the master file.
      • Ex. Active/ Imperative: Note: When you change the procedure, record the change in the master file.
when is the passive the wrong choice1
When is the passive the wrong choice?
  • When “it” is the subject of the passive verb.
  • Delete “ it should be noted that,” it is recommended that,” and “it may be observed that.”
    • Ex. Passive: It is recommended that this new policy be instituted at once.
    • Ex. Active: We recommend instituting this new policy at once.
grammar check note
Grammar Check Note
  • Most grammar checkers let you select the features (“long sentence,” “wordiness,” “passive constructions”)
  • If you are writing a report on an experiment, disable the passive voice feature. If you are preparing a user’s guide or other set of instructions, make sure that feature is turned on.