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I'm currently writing a paper for my research however I'm wondering if the usage of the passive voice is correct. for example I wrote like

  • mistakes were corrected
  • were normalized
  • were identified

One whole sentence example in my paper:

After loading the dataset in Excel (selecting tab as delimiter) delimiter mistakes were corrected.

However when I use a grammar checker it will say "passive voice" and suggest to correct this, however what choice should I make when writing a scientific paper?

marked as duplicate by Drew, sumelic, BladorthinTheGrey, jimm101, Hellion Jan 5 '17 at 18:22

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  • 2
    If your "scientific writing" style guide won't accept "active voice", you must use passive. If you must use the passive voice, simply ignore anything which tells you that you are doing that, especially if this is Microsoft Word's grammar checker. Turn that off. – Andrew Leach Jan 5 '17 at 14:58
  • This is a style question, not a question about what is "correct". Check with your style guide (e.g. the conference to which you are submitting the paper). – Drew Jan 5 '17 at 16:06
  • It's amusing (or at least it amuses me) that no one has commented on the real problem with your sentence -- the dangling absolute. After loading the dataset will apply to the subject of the sentence, delimiter mistakes, but those mistakes didn't load themselves. And therein lies one pitfall of the passive, losing track of the actor. You're concentrating so hard on the voice of the verb that you don't realize what you're saying. – deadrat Jan 5 '17 at 20:00
  • Sorry @deadrat but I don't understand what you mean can you please explain what you mean in some more detail (probably in an answer)? – Bioinformatician Jan 5 '17 at 20:54
  • @Bioinformatician I'm not sure I can be any clearer. Somebody loaded the dataset, but that somebody is missing from your sentence, so it sounds as if the mistakes are doing the loading, but that's impossible. After loading the data set is called a nominative absolute. Nominative because it applies to the subject of the main clause; absolute, because the syntactic relationship is a loose one. The subject of your main clause is delimiter mistakes, but that's the wrong association for loading. This is a common problem with the passive. E.g., The keys having been found, the car was driven – deadrat Jan 5 '17 at 21:40

If your scientific writing style guide won't accept use of the first person, ("I" or "we") and you want to refer to yourself, consider using the third person:

After loading the dataset in Excel (selecting tab as delimiter) the research team corrected the delimiter mistakes.

Even if the "research team" is "us". In general, I'd say never write

X was done by Y

always use

Y did X

If it isn't a distraction, whenever you can name the actor, do so. Regarding the grammar checker, I'd keep it on, and for every sentence it flags, ask yourself if you can avoid the use of the passive.

  • So should I avoid e.g. "were corrected" or is this appropriate? – Bioinformatician Jan 5 '17 at 17:33

There is nothing wrong with judicious use of the passive voice. In your example sentence, it is the natural way to express what happened. (But I would suggest a comma after the closing parenthesis.)

At this link, you will find a long long list of Language Log articles defeinding the passive voice against the diatribes of ignorant commentators. Some of them are rather entertaining.


The issue I see is not that you're using verbs as nouns, but that you're using passive voice. For more direct and clear writing, you need to construct the sentence as [who/what] [verb]. Use present tense as well and avoid including text in parentheses. For example: After loading the dataset in Excel (selecting tab as delimiter) delimiter mistakes were corrected would be better stated as: After you load the dataset in Excel and you select tab as the delimiter, Excel corrects the delimiter mistakes. If the noun/pronoun choice is not accurate, you know right away and can make sure to clarify the situation which helps the reader, ultimately.

  • I edited my question because scientific writing won't accept "active" as stated here: editage.com/insights/… – Bioinformatician Jan 5 '17 at 14:50
  • Active voice is not inherently more direct or clear than passive voice; which to use usually depends on whether the focus is on the actor or the acted-upon. It is no surprise that research styles may prefer the passive, as it emphasizes that the researcher is outside of the process. – choster Jan 5 '17 at 15:58
  • The editage example actually concludes that you should be judicious in your choice of active vs. passive voice in scientific writing depending on where you want to place the focus. – l.m.duss Jan 5 '17 at 17:50

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