Writing for Business

Mar 26 2010   2:30PM GMT

Passive vs. active voice

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
a. Fuzz testing was originally developed by Barton Miller at the University of Wisconsin in 1989.
b. Barton Miller originally developed fuzz testing at the University of Wisconsin in 1989.

Answer: Either, depending on what you want to emphasize.

Neither sentence is incorrect but this is one instance where the preferred structure depends on what you want to emphasize. The active voice is usually preferable but sometimes the passive voice works better for a given purpose. If your topic is fuzz testing, then that should come first, even if that means using passive voice. If your topic is Barton Miller’s accomplishments, then he should get priority.

BusinessWriting.com explains passive vs. active voice:

What are passive and active voices?

English verbs have two voices: active voice and passive voice. In active voice, the person acting is clear: “The manager wrote the report yesterday.” The person acting is the manager.

In passive voice, the writer does not specify who is acting: “The report was written yesterday.” It could have been written by the secretary, George Bush, or the manager–we don’t know.

The sentence is still in passive voice if the writer specifies the actor later in the sentence: “The report was written yesterday by the manager.”

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