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Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS): Grammar Toolkit/Academic Style and Voice

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Academic Style 1

Not using ‘I’

In most academic work you will be expected to use a neutral, impersonal style of writing. This usually means that you will avoid using ‘I’ (unless you are writing reflectively about your own experiences).

The passive voice

The passive voice can be useful because it encourages you to use neutral language. It also means that the focus is on the action rather than the person/thing (the subject) that is doing the action.

Passive versus active sentences

In normal (active) sentences, the subject does something.

*The criminal arrested the police officer.

The subject is the criminal. It is active. The criminal does the arresting.

*The previous example sounds a little strange. More likely:

The criminal was arrested by the police officer.

The subject is the criminal. It is passive. Somebody else does the arresting to the criminal.

The police officer arrested the criminal.

The subject is the police officer. It is active. The police officer does the arresting.

How is the passive voice formed?

The passive is constructed by using

(1) the auxiliary verb ‘be’ and

(2) the -ed form of the verb (also known as the -ed participle)

(1) The form of be will vary according to the tense needed in the sentence, for example:

(2) For most verbs, the -ed participle is formed by simply adding -ed:

 

However, for a small number of verbs, this will be a slightly different form:

Use a dictionary to check if unsure.

 

The active and impersonal voice

It is also possible to use an active and impersonal voice in your work. Using the active voice can be more direct and easier to understand. Look at the differences between the examples below:

  • My personal argument is that students need to use online resources. (Active and personal)
  • This report is supported by evidence that online resources are useful to students.(Passive and impersonal)
  • This report argues that online resources are beneficial to students. (Active and impersonal)


While all of these sentences make grammatical sense, the third example is clear, direct and written in an impersonal style.

Neutral writing checklist

Library Resources

Further resources

WANT TO KNOW MORE about the Passive and Active Voice?

Downloads

To download a PDF copy of the Neutral writing checklist, click the link below.