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Recently, a scientific paper of mine was rejected. One of the reviewers of my paper commented that I needed to convert the entire paper from a passive voice to an active voice. Currently, I'm using tons of phrases in the passive third person voice such as:

Two different versions of the generalized polynomial chaos finite element method were implemented and tested in this paper.

I know that it's very easy to convert this sentence into the active 1st person plural, since it only requires a minor rearrangement of the words and tenses:

We implement and test two different versions of the generalized polynomial chaos finite element method in this paper.

But I have no clue how to convert a sentence like this into the 3rd person active. What's the easiest way to accomplish conversion from 3rd person passive to 3rd person active?

  • It sounds clumsy, but "The researchers...", "The authors", or "They..." is third person plural. Personally, I think it's fine to use the first person plural; it's done all the time in research. Unfortunately, ELU doesn't support give writing advice, but you may well get a golden answer on Academia.SE. Good luck. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '15 at 20:57
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    I don't understand why you call your current version passive third person. Who's to say the unstated agent isn't ...tested by us or ...by me? – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '15 at 20:57
  • @FumbleFingers: Us/We and Me/I are discouraged by the editors. – Paul Oct 30 '15 at 20:59
  • @Paul: Yes, but that doesn't constrain the possible meaning of your passive example - where the agent performing the testing is unstated, so I don't see why you call it "third person". Grammatically/semantically It could just as well be first or second person, singular or plural, regardless of whether your editors would disapprove if you explicitly used those forms. – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '15 at 21:09
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    If they want agents identified, you should say who did it. If it's the authors, then we is indeed appropriate. Why should third person be involved? And why did the reviewer suggest you should change from passive to active? Just on general principles? If so, the reviewer is an idiot. But there may have been more involved, like doubts about who did what and how well. – John Lawler Oct 30 '15 at 22:57
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In order to convert from passive voice to active voice, you have to specify the subject that performed the action of the verb. This is why passive voice is frowned upon -- because it does not present as much information.

Your rewording (to 1st person active) assumes that the performers were the authors throughout the paper, which is why it's easy to add "We" and rearrange accordingly. Your rearrangement is grammatically correct and semantically clear. Can you clarify why first person is not sufficient? Is it merely that you wish to avoid the use of first person pronouns in a scholarly paper?

If you are trying to convert the sentences to 3rd person active, you have to be able to identify the subject of each sentence. If, as in the provided example, the subject is the authors, but you wish to speak in the third person, then you can replace the first person subject (as in your example above) with either "the authors" or "they":

  • The authors implemented and tested two different versions of the generalized polynomial chaos finite element method in this paper.
  • They implemented and tested two different versions of the generalized polynomial chaos finite element method in this paper.

(Note I maintained the past tense as in your original passive voice sentence.)

Short answer: there is no "easy" way to accomplish conversion from third person passive to third person active unless you know the actor performing the action for each passive sentence. This is not because it's "hard" grammatically to come up with an easy method; it's because passive voice, by definition, is lacking in the information needed to automate the transformation.

  • When speaking of abstract mathematics, the ideas are the actors in the sentence, not the people who are writing the paper. How do I give a voice to the abstract? – Paul Oct 30 '15 at 21:02
  • @Paul - Then you have to make the abstract the actors. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '15 at 21:03
  • @medica: How??? – Paul Oct 30 '15 at 21:04
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    @Paul, I don't know enough math, but, say, "The chaos finite element polynomial X interacts with the polynomial version Y in manner a... In medicine, enzymes, diseases, aging are actors, and have a voice. I can imagine math is similar. "X>Y" is not passive. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '15 at 21:07
  • Paul can you offer an example of such a sentence involving the kind of abstract mathematics you are describing? // @Medica concur with your comment about the voice of abstract actors. – Nonnal Oct 30 '15 at 21:12
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Two different versions of the generalized polynomial chaos finite element method have undergone implementation and testing in this paper. They implemented seamlessly and tested rather well. The results delighted everybody.

  • "have undergone" is passive. – Paul Oct 30 '15 at 20:58
  • Have undergone is Perfect, not Passive. There is no Passive construction in the sentences. – John Lawler Oct 30 '15 at 22:54

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