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December 25, 1967

The Passive Voice

JAMA. 1967;202(13):1152-1153. doi:10.1001/jama.1967.03130260074023

To the Editor:—  A major disagreement about the best style for scientific writing continues to confuse medical authors, as pictured clearly in the essay on "The Passive Voice" by C.G. Roland, MD, (201:616, 1967). Dr. Roland championed the active voice in scientific writing— for brevity, clarity, and strength of style, eg, "We studied" rather than "A study has been undertaken."Many scientific authors and journals (and even some stylists) prefer, for supposed objectivity, the passive voice and avoidance of personal pronouns. Indirect phrasing is thought to convey better the "restraint" and "equanimity" appropriate to science and diplomacy.1The editors of Style Manual for Biological Journals2 take a strong stand for directness:Use the passive voice only when necessary for emphasis; it requires extra words and may not convey the intended meaning. Compare Fungi produce antibiotics with Antibiotics are produced by fungi. The passive here requires two more