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Grammar Deep Dive: The Passive Voice in Scientific Writing

The passive voice is a style of writing that makes the action or the result the focus of the sentence, rather than who or what is performing the action. This is particularly useful in scientific writing, including documents in the pharmaceutical field, where what happened is often more important than who made it happen.


Why Use Passive Voice?

Objectivity: The passive voice helps keep the writing neutral, focusing on the facts.

Active: "The research team conducted the experiment."

Passive: "The experiment was conducted by the research team."

Focus on Results: In science, the findings are crucial. The passive voice emphasizes these findings.

Active: "Scientists discovered the drug's effectiveness."

Passive: "The drug's effectiveness was discovered (by scientists)."

Formality: Scientific and pharmaceutical writings are formal. The passive voice adds to this formality.

Active: "We analyzed the data."

Passive: "The data were analyzed."

How to Form the Passive Voice

To form a passive sentence, you typically follow this structure:

Start with the object of the action (what receives the action).

Use the appropriate form of the verb "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, etc.) for the tense you need.

Follow with the past participle of the main verb (the action).

Optionally, include the doer of the action, introduced by the preposition "by."

Formula: Object + form of "to be" + past participle of the main verb + (by + doer)

Forming Passive Sentences

Identify the Object: Determine what the sentence is about. This becomes the subject in the passive voice.

Active: "Scientists synthesize new compounds."

Passive: "New compounds are synthesized (by scientists)."

Choose the Correct Form of "To Be": Match the tense of your active sentence to ensure proper time representation.

Present: "Researchers are developing a vaccine."

Passive: "A vaccine is being developed (by researchers)."

Use the Past Participle Correctly: This is crucial for correctly forming the passive voice.

"The drug was approved."

"Approval was granted to the drug."

Including the Doer: While often omitted in scientific writing to emphasize objectivity and results, you can include the doer if it adds necessary clarity or attribution.

"The procedure was designed by Dr. Smith."


Form + Past Participle (Singular / Plural)

Examples (Singular / Plural)

Present Simple

is / are + past participle

"The result is analyzed." / "The results are analyzed."

Past Simple

was / were + past participle

"The sample was tested." / "The samples were tested."

Future Simple

will be + past participle (both)

"The vaccine will be produced." / "The vaccines will be produced."

Present Perfect

has been / have been + past participle

"The report has been published." / "The reports have been published."

Past Perfect

had been + past participle (both)

"The drug had been approved." / "The drugs had been approved."

Future Perfect

will have been + past participle (both)

"The study will have been completed." / "The studies will have been completed."

Present Continuous

is being / are being + past participle

"The solution is being applied." / "The solutions are being applied."

Past Continuous

was being / were being + past participle

"The experiment was being conducted." / "The experiments were being conducted."

When to Use Passive Voice

Describing Methods and Procedures: Focus on the procedure, not the person doing it.

Active: "The technician applied the solution."

Passive: "The solution was applied by the technician."

Reporting Results: Talk about the outcomes of experiments or studies.

Active: "The team found a significant increase."

Passive: "A significant increase was found."

Discussing Findings: Keep the tone objective when talking about the implications of your study.

Active: "Our study suggests new treatment options."

Passive: "New treatment options are suggested by our study."

Tips for Using Passive Voice Effectively

Balance: Use both active and passive voices to keep your writing engaging.

Mix it up: Instead of "The serum was created," try "We created the serum," when you want to highlight the team's effort.

Be Clear: Ensure your passive sentences are straightforward.

Avoid: "The medication was prescribed by doctors to patients."

Prefer: "Doctors prescribed the medication to patients."

Use Where Needed: Apply the passive voice where it enhances clarity and formality. Use active voice for discussions or personal commentary.

Method Section: "The compound was synthesized at a controlled temperature."

Discussion: "We believe this synthesis method offers several advantages."

In conclusion

The passive voice is a valuable tool in scientific writing, emphasizing results, processes, and maintaining a formal, objective tone. By carefully choosing where and how to use it, and balancing it with active voice, you can make your scientific documents clearer, more engaging, and more professional. Remember, the goal is to communicate your findings effectively, and understanding when and how to use the passive voice is a key part of that communication.


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