When compared to other forms of papers, academic writing is distinct in style and has a range of tones. When making points in an academic essay, your tone should ideally allow for correctness, a logical presentation of ideas, and emotional objectivity.
The decision between using active or passive voice in writing is one of many factors to take into account while setting the tone for an academic work. Based on what students have learned at the most fundamental levels of study, academic writing must use the active voice to enable clear concept communication.
Nevertheless, depending on the paper’s intended audience and tone, research papers can be written in either the active or passive voice. If you’re unsure about when to utilize the passive or active voice in your research paper, keep reading for instructions.
What voice to use in a research paper
Limiting your papers to one particular voice can greatly limit the quality of various chapters in your paper. Ideally, different chapters should use different voices, ensuring maximum engagement with a reader.
For instance, active voice is important for the introduction and discussion section and highlights the doer of an action as opposed to the action. This is because active voice is clearer than passive voice, reducing the likelihood of confusion for your reader. Active voice is best preferred for:
- Shortening your paper
- You intend to give authority to the doer of an action
- Making your paper easier to read
- Improving the readability of your paper
- Emphasizing the responsibility of the author on a particular decision made in the course of research.
Although the active voice is preferred for the introduction, the passive voice is best suited for the methods section as it outlines various actions that were done with little focus on the doer. The passive voice is best preferred when:
- An agent of an action is obvious, unknown or unimportant for the reader.
- When the action is more important than its doer.
- To avoid blame on a person.
- To avoid repetition in your work
It is key to note that an APA style paper prescribes for the use of active voice. Also, journals prefer active voice and should thus offer more preference to active voice than passive statements.
Can you use passive voice in a research paper
Yes. The passive voice is preferred for the methods and results section to avoid repetition and to highlight the actions that were taken in your research, e.g.
Active: We grouped students in three categories and assigned them various tools for study.
Passive: Students were grouped in three categories and assigned various tools for study.
Since our main aim is to highlight the action as opposed to the doer, the passive voice is best suited for the methods section. However, refrain from using passive voice in research paper introduction, discussion and literature review sections as these sections heavily rely on your capacity to attribute various claims to their authors.
How to change passive voice to active voice in a research paper
When converting passive voice in scientific writing to passive voice:
- Find the action in a sentence, e.g. the practical’s were performed by students
- Trace the subject of the sentence, e.g. the practicals were performed by students
- Put the subject before the verb, e.g. the students performed the practicals
- Put the object in the latter parts of the sentence, e.g. the students performed the practicals
- Get rid of unnecessary words, e.g. students performed practicals
Should an abstract for a research paper be in active or passive voice
The abstract of your research paper should be written in active voice. This is because active voice helps you to maintain precision and to inform the reader of the actions you did over the course of your research.
Which elements most affect the voice of an academic paper
To catch a reader’s attention, it is vital that you use the right tone. Some of the elements that affect the voice of an academic paper include:
- Sources: the sources used in an academic paper bring about a source voice, serving as an authority on which a writer’s ideas are based.
- Choice of word: the language used in your paper greatly determined the impact you have on the reader. Flowery language may hook the reader to read your paper, but, is not recommended for scientific papers.
- Also, the use of declarative statements can determine the difference between an authoritative and opinionated papers.