‘Voice’ expresses whether the subject in a sentence acts (active voice) or is acted on (passive voice). Active voice is more direct and can give your writing authority and purpose. Passive voice, if overused, can make your writing seem impersonal, wordy and lacking in authority. But, as shown below, both have their place in scholarly writing.

Example of active voice

Consider the following sentence written in active voice:

The researcher conducted a detailed analysis.

In this sentence, the grammatical subject — that is, the actor who performs the action — comes first (‘The researcher’), followed by the verb (‘conducted’) and then the object (‘detailed analysis’). This means the subject in this sentence is doing the acting.

Example of passive voice

Now the same sentence written in passive voice:

A detailed analysis was conducted by the researcher.

Here, the object comes first (‘A detailed analysis’) followed by the verb (‘was conducted’), and the subject or actor (‘the researcher’) comes last. In passive voice, the focus is on the object experiencing the action rather than on the person performing the action.

In other words, in passive voice, the object becomes the most important part of the sentence. You also use passive voice when you do not want to name the subject or actor. You can usually recognise passive voice because it has ‘by’ in the sentence.