Active vs Passive Voice in Scientific Writing

ACS Webinars

"We applied an external magnetic field of 4 T while increasing the pressure to 300 kPa." or "An external magnetic field of 4 T was applied as the pressure was increased to 300 kPa." 

Which is the better way to compose your research; the direct, bold language of active voice, or the objective, nuanced tone of passive voice? We’ve gathered two expert wordsmiths from the world of academia to share the pros and cons of each. Join us as Kristin Sainani and Celia Elliott present their cases on the best way to compose your writings and let us know which style you prefer. See what else Celia and Kristin had to say about writing in their Reddit AMA.

Benefits of Active Voice

  • The active voice is easier to read.
  • The active voice reduces ambiguity.
  • The active voice emphasizes authors' responsibility for their work and conclusions. 

Benefits of Passive Voice

  • The passive voice can be wordy in the hands of amateurs, but we'll show you how to make it concise.
  • The passive voice allows frontloading of key words and phrases to increase readers' comprehension.
  • The passive voice better expresses objectivity and a neutral, facts-based approach.

The Fine Print

ACS Webinars® does not endorse any products or services. The views expressed in this presentation are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the American Chemical Society.


Kristin Sainani
Stanford University

Celia Elliott
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

David Harwell
ACS Industry Member Programs

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