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March 9, 1984

Use the Passive Voice!

Author Affiliations

Los Altos, Calif

JAMA. 1984;251(10):1271. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340340017006

Many medical writers hold dear and cite often the advice quoted above. However, in their zeal to obey they neglect to notice that like all advice ("Buy tax-free municipal bonds!"), it is more appropriate in some cases than in others. They also fail to acknowledge that the esteemed authorities Strunk and White advise use of the passive voice when suitable, ie, in a good deal of medical writing.

The sulfonamides have been largely replaced by more effective and less toxic antimicrobial agents...2

Since the subject of discussion is sulfonamides, it seems "more direct and vigorous" to let the subject of the sentence be sulfonamides also, rather than turning it around to read: "More effective and less toxic antimicrobial agents have largely replaced the sulfonamides..."

Rabbits sick with tularemia are more easily caught by dogs or cats and may, therefore, be brought into contact with human beings.3

The author