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I am starting to write my thesis and was told not to use passive voice. But the active voice pronouns "I" and "we" do not sound right somehow and I even found this link How to Write... encouraging active voice yet instructing not to use first person pronouns.

So I am planing to mix active voice with passive voice, such that when I refer to my work specifically I will use passive voice and else I will use active voice. I am not a native English speaker, but in my language this sounds fine. Moreover this link Mix... says it is okay in English too.

Is this good practice in dissertations?

If not is there any other solution to this problem?

For instance in the abstract I want to say "In this thesis I prove that the...". How can I write this sentence in active voice without using I? Thanks a lot.

I believe my question is different from Style Question: Use of "we" vs. "I" vs. passive voice in a dissertation as I am asking about mixing two voices in same document specifically and not about using we vs I.

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    The down voter can you please explain why you down voted this question? Thanks. – MLT Dec 4 '13 at 1:58
  • I went through english.stackexchange.com/questions/9986/… before I asked my question. but that question is not the same as my question. I am asking if I can mix active and passive voice in same documents, not asking about using I and we. So please unblock it. – MLT Dec 4 '13 at 20:30
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This is a tough question. I have faced it myself.

You are caught in a tug-of-war between differing schools of thought in the matter. Unfortunately, it is likely that at least one professor on your dissertational committee feels strongly in the matter. Fortunately, if you just accept your advisor's advice in the matter, then the professor in question will almost certainly take the argument to your advisor and pass your thesis. What you cannot afford to do is to buck your advisor.

Abstracts regrettably are often badly written. The most standard style, recommended by the best editors of U.S. journals, seems in my experience to be not "In this paper I prove that the ..." but merely "It is proved that the ..." or, better, "That the ... is proved." This is not so much English as Abstractese, of course, but Abstractese actually serves a valid purpose. It is a dialect worth mastering.

Regarding the active and passive voices, you have never mentioned your major, but there simply exists no consensus for technical, mathematical and philosophical papers, which are not literature and do not benefit as much as literature does from the active voice. Still, English does like the active voice as a rule. My own view, after many years of trying both styles, is that the passive voice really is better for the kind of paper or thesis in question—but as I said, my view counts for nothing here. Go with your advisor's preference. Even if your advisor's preference disagrees with your own, you will learn something by trying it.

Incidentally, mixing voices in the specific manner you suggest is not always easy but can be done to pleasing effect. Of course you should speak of the work of others in the active voice, as you suggest. The passive voice is usually silly to use in that context.

Good question.

  • Thanks a lot. My field is engineering. Also regarding using both voices what is your opinion please? – MLT Dec 4 '13 at 2:13
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    In practical academic engineering writing, you have to use both voices in appropriate instances, as you suggest. In engineering in particular, the passive voice is used extensively for the sole purpose of eliminating as many instances of I and me as possible, especially since engineering in particular harshly judges the use of the indefinite we, sometimes condoned in the sciences and, of course, often allowed in philosophy and mathematics. No, you are right. You have no good alternative. Use active to speak of someone else's work. Use passive to speak of your own work, as a rule. – thb Dec 4 '13 at 2:19

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