Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Passive voice was used

Recently, many manuscripts from graduate students were read, and comments made by me. It was noticed that students choose to use passive voice for much of their papers (especially descriptions of sequencing and tree building). Some speculations were proposed as to why the students were doing this. It was concluded that they are trying to sound more "science-y," but that it was not really working very well. 

Please, stop!  You're all slowly killing me with these sentences. 


Dan Warren said...

Oh man, I hate passive voice. I am a great proponent of the yoda voice as an alternative, as in "sequenced using a Qiagen kit, the DNA was" or "inferred from this data, incipient speciation is". It's every bit as annoying as the passive voice, but at least it's more entertaining when you imagine it coming from a muppet.

Jeremy said...

Yeah, guilty as charged. Not that it's any excuse, but my undergrad bio profs all advocated passive voice for scientific writing. (My English profs would no doubt have happily strangled them over this.) And, readability issues aside, it's really no greater a fiction to pretend that the methods just sort of happened on their own than to say that "we" did every part of a collaborative project.

Now, this "yoda voice" - much possibility that has.

Anonymous said...

To be perfectly honest, my first drafts are still like this too. I just purge them later.

Anonymous said...

ok, we can all agree that we should avoid passive voice, but does anyone have effective strategies beyond this for improving grad student writing? In my experience, decent manuscripts only emerge after many cycles of revision, and I usually encourage my students to get the ideas down in paper in any form and then start to tinker rather than get hung up on writing perfect sentences the first time through.
Anyone have thoughts or tips on how to speed this process?

Anonymous said...

I think the most uncomfortable aspect of active voice for most new scientific writers is a solo project: It always sounds like you're standing in a Capt. Morgan's pose with a flag in your hand like Cabrillo or Ponce de Leon...I DID this, I DID that!

We DID this and we DID that is much less jarring (IMO).