Ego and the Third-Person Passive

“I think, therefore I am.”
–R. Descartes

“They think, therefore they are.”
–M. Fairchild?

“Thinking is observed, therefore existence is inferred.”
–M. Fairchild?

Passive Voice in Scientific Writing: Scientists are often taught that it is proper, in technical writing, to use the passive voice. The reason given is usually that such writing is seen as more objective, which is appropriate for the objective communication of facts. That assumes there is no room for opinion in science. There is, but that discussion can be saved for another day. In addition, if any reference to humans is required, scientists are usually instructed to use the third person. The third-person construct, in combination with the passive voice is almost certainly the most precise and objective way to communicate scientific results. (See, an opinion presented “passively”.) Ultimately, writing in third-person and in passive voice, removes, as much as possible, the ego from the presentation. That is a laudable goal.

The true grammatical definition of active vs. passive voice in writing is slightly more complex than that considered by most students of science. Grammatic voice is defined by a group of grammar educators ( as follows.

Active Voice: A feature of sentences in which the subject performs the action of the verb and the direct object is the goal or the recipient. The mechanic fixed the car.

Passive Voice: A feature of sentences in which the object or goal of the action functions as the sentence subject and the main verb phrase includes the verb to bend the past participle. The car was fixed by the mechanic.

Either of the above forms would typically be accepted in scientific writing (and would often be called passive voice). So, while many accuse scientists of always writing in third-person, passive voice, the reality is that most scientific writing is actually a combination of active and passive voice, but almost always in third person.

Third Person:  Scientists typically write in third person with a mixture of active and passive voice.  First person prose is never necessary in technical writing and, to many scientists, appears as sloppy, imprecise (often), and lazy. This opinion is not universal.

This concept is very nicely explained in a blog entry at <> entitled The Value of Passive Voice. It is well stated, concise, and full of good advice.

Ego: This blog is not about the author. It is intended to be about the content and the process. Thus, it will be written largely in third-person and often in passive voice. However, I will make exceptions on occasion.

Next up; Who knows?