Improve your technical writing. Avoid the passive voice.

Doing this should really add a punch to your writing style. It also helps you eliminate needless words . . . . 

Sentences that use the active voice are more forceful and direct. They convey confidence and assert authority. They bring clarity to complex ideas. They express ideas vigorously and do so concisely.

Sentences written in the active voice are the opposite of heavily-bureaucratic language, which takes the long way around when making a point and, consequently, blurs what should be crystal clear.

Put simply, using the active voice means constructing a sentence whose subject does the acting directly. The electricians pulled the cable uses the active voice because the action (pulling) is directly performed by the subject (electricians).

A sentence uses the passive voice when the action is indirect, such as The cable was pulled by the electricians. As the following examples show, sentences written in the active voice usually sound better and get to the point quicker:


The problem was solved by the installation of higher-rated lugs.


Voltage drop is decreased through the installation of larger cable.


There were large quantities of water in the buried duct.


The reason Class-1E breakers must be used is to connect the non-safety loads to the safety-related electrical bus.


Installing higher-rated lugs solved the problem.



Installing larger cable reduces voltage drop.

Water flooded the buried duct.


Connecting the non-safety loads to the safety-related electrical bus requires the use of a Class-1E breaker.

That’s not to say the passive voice should never be used. If the subject is unknown or is irrelevant when compared to the significance of the action, passive voice is used:

In the aftermath of the tsunami it was determined that more preparation was needed to protect a plant from natural disasters greater than those it was designed to withstand.

When the breaker was closed the switchgear exploded.

And just in case you thought active voice was only to be used by real literary geniuses following Strunk and White, even the NRC promotes its use in its writing. For example, in NUREG 1379, the NRC exhorts us to “[r]emember that simple language is easier to read and is often more accurate.”

The number-one rule it lists in its “3 Rules for Writing in Plain Language” is this: use the active voice.

I have to admit, I was surprised to find this in official NRC literature.

To see for yourself, download NUREG 1379 and turn to Chapter 7 on “Plain Language.”