5. We use active sentences

Passive sentences will not be used

This is a very specific grammatical point, but it’s one that we need to pay close attention to because technical and scientific reporting frequently over-uses passive sentences. As a result, we tend to use them far more than we realize.

An active sentence puts the person or people doing the action at the start of the sentence: We conducted the experiment.

A passive sentence puts the person or people doing the action at the end: the experiment was conducted by us or just the experiment was conducted.

Notice how it’s now ambiguous. Who did the experiment?

Sometimes you will need to use a passive sentence and that’s totally fine. But do it deliberately when you want to direct your reader’s attention in a particular way. Most of the time we simply use them out of habit, when an active sentence would be simpler, clearer and sound more natural.


Passive: ‘Once the right techniques and methods have been identified…’

Active: ‘Once we have identified the right techniques and methods…’

Passive: ‘Positive feedback has been received regarding the new services…’

Active: ‘Customers have given us positive feedback about the new services’

Passive: ‘Once next steps have been ascertained…’

Active: ‘Once we’ve worked out the next steps…’

Passive: ‘Soil is increasingly recognised as an important factor…’

Active: ‘We now know that soil is an important factor…’

Passive: ‘The Morphologi 4 can be used to measure…’

Active: ‘You can use the Morphologi 4 to measure…’

But I thought science was supposed to be in the passive voice?

Students are often taught that passive sentences are ‘more objective’ (because it’s about the experiments, not about the people). But in fact all the world’s top scientific journals ask for articles to be written using the active voice: it helps papers to be clearer, and keeps the scientists accountable for their results. (Because science is, at least partly, about people…)