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Home » Module 1 Unit 5: Passives » Common mistakes - page 8/9
Unit 1: Sentence fragmentsUnit 2: Run-on sentences Unit 3: Subject-verb agreementUnit 4: TensesUnit 5: PassiveUnit 6: ApostrophesUnit 7: Articles


Mistake 5 - You use the passive for the wrong reasons.

Four bad reasons for using the passive:

  1. You think it will impress your readers.

    This is not likely. It will only impress your readers if you are using it correctly and in a way that suits the purpose of your writing.

  2. You just pop it in now and then to show that your writing is varied.

    Your readers will probably be confused by too much variation unless there is a good reason for it. The passive is not used randomly. It is always used for a reason.

  3. You think it makes your writing sound more objective.

    Academic writing often uses impersonal passive constructions such as it is argued that or it is said that. These passive constructions can sometimes make your writing sound more objective because they provide one way of avoiding personal language. However, over-using the impersonal passive for this purpose can have a negative effect because your readers may not be able to work out where you, the writer, stand in relation to what you are writing.

    Read the following short passage. The impersonal passive structures are highlighted for you. Think about why this doesn't work well, then compare your thoughts with our explanation.

    Don't over-use impersonal passive constructions beginning with it.

  4. You think that you don’t have to reference your sources if you use the passive to avoid showing who did/thought/argued/found something you refer to in your writing.

    Look at this example:

    It is argued that inflation and unemployment are not closely connected.

    In your reading, you have clearly come across a writer or perhaps a number of writers who argue this. You need to acknowledge where this perspective originated. (For more on referencing see Module 2 and Module 3, Unit 1.) You cannot use the passive to avoid providing references to support your statements.