Thursday, July 27, 2023

What are the five reasons to use passive voice?

As listed below, there are only 5 reasons one should EVER use passive voice. If you don't need to use passive voice for one of those 5 reasons, then you must write active sentences. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Read on, brave writer!

What is active voice?
·       The subject does the action.

Example of active voice

Part of speech

The group
will present
the report
next week.

How can you tell if a sentence is active?
·       Ask yourself, "Who/What does the action?" If the answer is clear, the sentence is active.
o   Example: The students tested the samples.
o   Example: The samples failed.

Why use active voice?
·       Where possible, use the active voice. It is direct, brief, and easy to understand.

What is passive voice?
·       The passive voice places the emphasis on the action, rather than the actor.  

Example of passive voice

Part of speech

The report
will be presented
by the group
next week.

How can you tell if a sentence is passive?
·       The direct object is placed before the verb, which is given in the passive form. The subject, or actor, is usually not mentioned.
o   Example: The samples were tested.

Why use passive voice?
·       Passive voice is used frequently in technical (and academic) writing, where the focus is usually on what was done rather than who did it. It is conventionally used to report experimental procedures and to avoid constant repetition of I or we throughout the report, paper, or thesis.
·       Use passive voice for a specific purpose, not simply out of habit.
·       In order to use passive voice correctly, it is necessary to understand, and be able to recognize, the difference between passive and active voice.


· Find and circle all examples of passive voice in your paper.
· Do they fit one of the five reasons bel


Five reasons for using the passive voice


1. The 'actor' is not known.
·       Oil was discovered off the coast of Australia.
·       The number of Internet users was estimated to be over one million.

2. The 'actor' is not important.
·       The report has been published.
·       The results will be presented at the conference.

3. It is considered desirable to conceal the identity of the 'actor'.
·       The results are invalid, as the correct testing procedure was not followed.          
·       Research funding will be cut next year.

4. An impersonal tone is needed for academic writing.
·       In this report, the stress fields in a C-shape plate will be analyzed.
An impersonal tone is also used for describing processes.
·       First, the raw materials are loaded into a container ...

5. A tactful tone is needed to smooth over an error or difficulty.
Compare these two examples.
·       Example of passive voice: The samples were not checked at the second stage . . .
·       Example of active voice: We forgot to check the samples . . .

Homework: Find all passive voice sentences that do not fit one of the five reasons. Then, change them into active voice. 


Passive voice is used frequently in technical writing, where the focus is usually on what was done rather than who did it. It is conventionally used to report experimental procedures and to avoid constant repetition of I or we throughout the report, paper or thesis.

In order to use passive voice correctly, it is necessary to fully understand, and be able to recognize, the difference between passive and active voice.

Active and passive voice
  • The active voice names an 'actor' which/who is the subject of the verb; the actor does the verb.
Who/What does the verb? 
  • If the answer is clear, the sentence is active. 
Note that often, there is a direct object (DO) 'receiving' the action.
Part of speech

The students
the samples.

The samples

Who/What is the verb done to? This is the direct object.

Part of speech
Direct Object
The students
the samples.

Where possible, use the active voice. It is direct, brief, and easy to understand.
The passive voice places the emphasis on the action rather than the actor. The direct object is placed before the verb, which is given in the passive form. The subject, or actor, is usually not mentioned.

Example: The samples were tested.

Formation of the passive

The passive can use any tense of the verb to be + a past participle

Any tense of the verb to be +
A past participle
The load/s
The report/s
has been
have been

The sample/s
will be
can be

The result/s
is/are being
(should) have been
(could) have been


Changing passive to active

To spot passive sentences, look for a form of the verb to be in your sentence, with the actor either missing or introduced after the verb using the word "by":
  • Genetic information is encoded by DNA.
  • The possibility of cold fusion has been examined for many years.

Try turning each passive sentence you find into an active one. Start your new sentence with the actor. Sometimes you may find that need to do some extra research or thinking to figure out who the actor should be! You will likely find that your new sentence is stronger, shorter, and more precise:

  • DNA encodes genetic information.
  • Physicists have examined the possibility of cold fusion for many years.
(found at; accessed 2012/04)

Changing active to passive

Example of active voice

Part of speech

The group
will present
the report
next week.

STEP 1: move the object to the subject position
  • The report ...

STEP 2: change the verb to the passive, making sure that BE takes the same tense as the verb in the active sentence
  • The report will be presented ...

STEP 3: drop the subject
  • Example of passive voice without the subject: The report will be presented next week.

or move it to a position after the verb
  • Example of passive voice with the subject: The report will be presented by the group next week.

Verbs that can't be used in the passive

Most verbs can be changed from active to passive.

Active voice: We tested the samples. > Passive voice: The samples were tested.

If the verb can be followed by a direct object (a direct object answers the question who or what after the verb) it can be made passive.

Part of speech

Direct object

These difficulties
may delay
the completion of the project.

But the verb occur, for example, cannot take a direct object.

Part of speech

Indirect object

A solution


to him.

This cannot be transformed to the passive since there is no direct object to become the subject.

Some verbs that can be used only in the active are: occur, rise, happen, arise, fall, exist, consist (of), depend (on),  result (from).

Active and passive verbs

Active (correct)
Passive (incorrect)
Problems may
Problems may be
consist of
depend on
They are

consist of
depend on
Note: 'They are dependent on . . .' is correct since 'dependent' is an adjective.

A special case:

Part of speech

Lack can take a direct object but cannot be transformed to the passive: Resources are lacked (incorrect). However, you could write: Resources are lacking.

Concern and involve

Concerned about means 'worried about'.  Concerned with means 'involved in'. The passive voice can be used with both meanings. Whether or not they can be used in the passive depends on the meaning.

To involve has three meanings:
  1. To participate, to take part
  2. To include
  3. To require
Only the first meaning, to participate, to take part can be used in the passive form.
  • This week, students are involved in lab work.
The active voice must be used with the second meaning, to include.
  • Example: He often involves his students in his research.
The active voice must also be used with the third meaning, to require.
  • Example: The project involves buying new software.

What is a main idea or contribution?


What is a contribution?

·      A contribution includes an addition to your field’s overall knowledge.
It is the main idea of your paper and the main purpose of your research.
It answers questions like:
·      What are you researching?
·      What are you trying to discover, prove, or create?
·      How do you plan to add value to your academic field?

How to determine the main idea and contribution of your paper

  • Don’t start by describing your methods: “I analyzed mobile information terminals and found many issues related to power failures and natural disasters.”
  • Instead, focus on your main idea, like this: “A single-function emergency information terminal using energy harvesting technology would allow users to access important information during natural disasters. ”
  • Distilling your main idea will take some thought and effort.
  • You might need to rewrite your paper several times.
  • You might also need to write your discussion section first.
  • After confirming the terminology and methods described in your discussion section, write your conclusion.
  • Then, determine your main idea.
  • Once you decide your main idea, help readers to get it quickly by putting it in your introduction.
  • Your introduction should include the purpose of your research
  • What specific question will you explore? How does it fit with previous research?

Why you should start your paper with your main idea and contribution

  • Your readers are busy and impatient. 
  • Most of them will not read your entire paper from start to finish.
  • Instead, most readers will skim your text looking at topic sentences, keywords, and headings in order to understand what you are talking about.
  • After they form their initial impressions, they might review each sentence to understand your logic and methods.
  • How can you catch and hold their attention during their initial skim?
  • First of all, be sure to include your main idea and contribution in your first paragraph.
  • Most writers do not tell us the contribution of their paper until the end of their paper.
  • Please do not make this mistake.


  1. Find and circle your contribution.
  2. If you cannot find your contribution or if it is spread out across several sentences, spend a moment crystallizing your ideas into one clear contribution sentence.
  3. Then, draw an arrow to the top of the page. Your contribution goes at the top!
  4. Homework: Reorganize and write your paper so that your contribution appears in the first sentence.

Friday, February 10, 2023

"Show, don't tell" or rather, "Show AND tell" – Good Writing's Golden Rule

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. —Anton Chekhov

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. —Sol Stein

Instead of writing, 'I was frightened,' describe your fear in detail. 'My heart was racing. I could barely breathe and found myself unable to speak.' Charlie Badenhop

An old journalistic maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” demands that writers show their actions to express an event or story and not just offer the results of what happened.
  • To "show" means to demonstrate.
  • To "tell" means to assert.
Watch this video to SEE the difference. 
(if the link above does not work, please try this one

Now, go back to your essay. Instead of abstract words, try using words that will appear in the mind's eye of your readers as images. 

For example, we may say, "He is sloppy." This is telling. Instead, if you say, "His shoelaces are untied, his socks are mismatched, his shirt untucked, and his face unwashed." This is showing.

To truly convince your readers, make sure to show with details exactly what you mean. Save your assertions for the topic and controlling sentences.

You can't tell us someone is a wonderful person, a talented musician, or a spoiled child. We won't believe you. You must show us.

Please add details so readers can imagine and care about your story. 

Please watch this short video to learn HOW to add details to your essays. 
(If the link above does not work, please try this one

Finally, please read this example. 

“I arrived at ABC Bank and took on a great deal of responsibility in corporate lending. I managed diverse clients in my first year and earned the recognition of my manager. Because of my hard work, initiative, and leadership, he placed me on the management track, and I knew that I would be a success in this challenging position.”

In the two sentences above, the reader is told that the applicant “took on a great deal of responsibility,” “managed diverse clients,” and “earned recognition,” none of which is substantiated via the story. Further, there is no evidence of “hard work, initiative, and leadership.”

“Almost immediately after joining ABC bank, I took a risk in asking management for the accounts left by a recently transferred manager. Soon, I expanded our lending relationships with a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor, making decisions on loans of up to $1M. Although I had a commercial banking background, I sought the mentorship of our District Manager and studied aggressively for the CFA (before and after fourteen-hour days); I was encouraged when the Lending Officer cited my initiative and desire to learn, placing me on our management track….”

In the example above, the story shows the “great deal of responsibility” (client coverage/ $1M lending decisions) and “diverse clients” (a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor). Further, “hard work, initiative, and leadership” are clear throughout.

The latter is a more interesting, rich, and humble paragraph that is more likely to captivate the reader. By showing your actions in detail, the same conclusions are drawn, but facts facilitate them. Essentially, facts become your evidence!

(found at; accessed 2010/11)

More tips here

When should I use numerals (1, 2, 3) instead of words (one, two, three)?


Also, even in essays, you can use numerals for time (e.g., 1 a.m.), $,¥,%

Use numerals for numbers 10 or over, and spell the words for 1 to 9.
However, don't mix numerals and the words for them when talking about the same category of items. Choose a form and stick to it.
e.g., Of the 20 students, only two failed the exam.
Is incorrect.

Of the 20 students, only 2 failed the exam.
Of the twenty students, only two failed the exam.
Both are correct.

Use numbers (numerals) in these instances:
1. For all numbers 10 and above: "There were 17 students in class."
2. All numbers below 10 are grouped in comparison to numbers 10 and above: "Ony 5 of 17 students passed the course."
3. When using numbers immediately before a unit of measure: "a 5-minute wait."
4. Numbers that represent statistical or mathematical functions or formulas: "a ratio of 12:1."
5. Numbers that represent time, dates, ages, sizes, scores, money, and points on a scale: "It happened 5 years ago"; "a roomful of 6-year-olds"; "$40."
6. Numbers represent a place in a series: "week 7 of an 8-week diet."
7. In a list of four or more numbers: "We had 1, 2, 5, and 8 pieces, respectively."
For complete information, you may wish to check the APA manual.

Writing Numbers
Reviewing the Rules
By Grace Fleming, Guide
Why do so many people find it difficult to remember the rules for using numbers in formal writing? Probably because the rules seem a little fuzzy sometimes. So what can you do? It's no mystery: as with anything, read and study the rules several times, and it will all seem natural, eventually.

Writing Numbers One through Ten
Spell out numbers one through ten, as in this example:

My little brother ate four apples before dinner and became ill.
Why do parents always check to see if babies have ten toes? Writing Numbers Above Ten Spell out numbers above ten, unless writing the number would involve using more than two words. For example:

I have sixty-three dead bugs in my collection.
My cousin has 207 bugs in his. (That would be three words, not counting "and.")
This site has given me a thousand helpful hints for my homework.
My grandmother is seventy-two today.
My little sister had about 4,763 measles on her face. (That would be four words.)
Always spell out numbers that begin sentences:

Four hundred and fifty people attended the birthday party.
However, you should try to avoid using long, clunky numbers at the beginning of a sentence:

There were 450 people at the party.
Dates, phone numbers, and time: Use numbers for dates:

My birthday is March 16.
He was born on Valentine's Day, 1975. And use numbers for phone numbers:

The phone number for the school is 800-555-6262
The international code for England is 44. And use numbers for time if using a.m. or p.m.:

The alarm will sound at 7 p.m.
I make my bed at 7 a.m. each morning. But spell out times when using "o'clock" or when the a.m. or p.m. are omitted:

The alarm will sound at seven o'clock.
I make my bed at seven each morning.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What is "resume English," and where should I use it?

To save space for quantitative data (#, $, %) and qualitative details (first, youngest, only, best), I encourage you to use "résumé English" in your resume and application data form short answers. 

What is "résumé English" and how do I use it?
  • Remove articles 'a', 'an', and 'the'
  • Delete all subjects 'I' and personal pronouns (we, they, etc.)
  • Cut helping verbs ('is,' 'was,' 'were')
  • Use verb tenses in the past, except for your present job. Example: Conducted routine inspections of on-site equipment
  • Remove periods (.) since you are not writing proper English sentences
  • For applications forms: If you have enough characters to add a period at the end of every short answer, then I suggest that you do so. On the other hand, if you don't have space in some places to include a period, then I encourage you to omit them everywhere
  • Remember to use power verbs

  • Change all number words (five) to numerals (5)
  • In essays, write numbers as words if below 10 (except $ or %)
  • In resumes and application data forms, however, you can ignore this "rule" in order to save space that is better used for impressive details that show quantifiable results ($, %) and qualitative impact (first, youngest, only, best)


Thanks to my AIGAC colleague Laura Freedman, who shared some great advice regarding numerical abbreviations in resumes.

How to use abbreviated numbers in resumes for international MBA programs and companies

PREFERRED BY INSEAD (and understood / acceptable at any top MBA program)
(from the CV self-review style guide INSEAD gives to incoming students)

Suggested numerical abbreviations:
  • k for 1,000 (thousands)
  • mn for 1,000,000 (millions)
  • bn for 1,000,000,000 (billions)
  • tn for 1,000,000,000,000 (trillions)
For Indians – avoid lakh and crore. For Japanese – avoid "man" (万). These terms suggest you're going to have difficulty adapting to an international corporate environment.

For currencies - we use currency code, but for major dollar denominations, we prefer US$ and SG$, CN$, AU$, and NZ$. The $ next to the number makes it easier to distinguish the currency from the number and is a symbol most people recognize, e.g., US$30k vs. USD30k, or CN$60mn vs. CAD60mn. Note that a common error is USD$ - either D or $ is fine but using both is not.

For other currencies, I prefer £ and € to EUR and GBP for readability. € is unique to Euro, and £ is dominant enough that nobody is going to mistake the currency for e.g. Cypriot pounds (unless you are from or worked in Cyprus, in which case it's best to use GBP for clarity).

As a general rule, convert currency amounts to US$, since it's a universally understood international currency. It's also OK to use the currency for the market you are targeting, recognizing that that signals you want to be in that market. Best to avoid other currencies. Most prospective employers (or B-schools) are not going to understand PEN40mn (Peruvian Nuevo Sol), or DZD246mn (Algerian Dinar), for example.

More tips on how to write numerals here

Saturday, September 4, 2021

How can I proofread and edit my writing?

First, I encourage you to use this three-step proofreading method.

SPELL CHECK for careless mistakes: First, please use the free spell and grammar check programs offered by MS Word and/or Google Docs.

READ ALOUD to check your grammar and style: Next, read your essay draft aloud at full volume to catch awkward phrasings and words that you are using too frequently.

READ BACKWARDS to check your logic: 
After taking a short break (get away from your computer!), read your essay "backward". Start with your final sentence and work back to your first. Are you making any logical leaps? How are your transitions?

More Proofreading Strategies to Try

Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.
If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.
Listen to the sound of the items in a list of the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do you hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.

How To Edit Your Own Writing (Self-Editing)

Editing takes considerable patience. I list below some reasonable ideas for each edit cycle. The sequence that you execute these steps may impact the style you produce; experiment a bit to see what order works best for your writing. You will know you are done editing when you are positively sick and tired of reading your work again.

A. Dictionary Check

Go through your document and look up in a dictionary any words where you aren't 101 percent sure of their meaning. I've surprised myself a couple of times when I have used a word repeatedly only to look it up and find it has another meaning entirely.

B. Action and Active Voice

Your writing will be clearer if you structure your sentences as subject-verb-object; tell action rather than describing situations. Use your word processor to search for words ending in "-ed" -- if you preceded this word by "is" or "was" (or similar verbs) the phrase would be better rewritten. Also, check for the word "there" followed by "is" or "are" (or similar verbs).

D. Be Positive

Occasionally the word "not" is useful for emphasis. Most of the time though a sentence is stronger when positive; use your word processor to search for the word "not" and recast the sentence using other descriptives.

E. Drown Your Darlings

If something sticks in your mind as being "ever so clever" you probably should remove it.

F. Re-order Your Words and Sentences

Keep related words together -- adjectives next to their nouns.

Read your essay aloud at full volume (doing so forces you to go slow).
After each word or phrase, ask yourself, "If I cut this, will my meaning change?"
If the answer is "no", then cut it!

More tips here, including this activity from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is a fantastic resource for writers.

This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.

The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.

This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.
1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.
Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in the word count.

Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech (14 words)
Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech. (8 words)

Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her. (14 words)
Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her. (6 words)

Wordy: Our website has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist. (20 words)
Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist. (9 words)

Wordy: Working as a pupil under someone who develops photos was an experience that really helped me learn a lot. (20 words)
Concise: Working as a photo technician's apprentice was an educational experience. (10 words)

2. Interrogate every word in a sentence
Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.

Wordy: The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class. (22 words)
Concise: The teacher demonstrated methods for cutting words from my essay. (10 words)

Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular. (66 words)
Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream, and Traffic. (32 words)

Wordy: Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon. (67 words)
Concise: A rolling stone gathers no moss. (6 words)

3. Combine Sentences.
Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.

Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles. (18 words)
Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. (11 words)

Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947. (24 words)
Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. (16 words)

(found at; accessed 11/2010)

Need more hints? Check out Vince's writing tips ▸

Featured Post

What are the five reasons to use passive voice?

USE ACTIVE VOICE As listed below, there are only 5 reasons one should EVER use passive voice. If you don't need to use passive voi...