The tasks of reading and writing can bring about challenges for many people. For some, they find difficulties in reading, due as a result of the fact that English is their second language, or because they did not learn effective reading skills and techniques as children, or perhaps even as a result of the fact that they read slow or have a learning disability. For others, like myself, writing poses the challenges that are faced. It is not simply enough to understand the challenges that a person faces, however; an understanding of the reason why those challenges are significant is likewise important. This paper will provide an exploration of this topic through the perspective of the writer.
I have written for years, throughout the entire course of my school career. It is a task that I enjoy. Yet, in spite of this, one of my largest issues in writing has occurred as a result of my school career. I have always had a problem in writing in passive voice, particularly in academic writing. While in some, very select sentences, passive writing is acceptable, and may even be the only way to write the sentence effectively, such as in a situation in which the individual is describing an action that will be taken in the course of the future. In most instances however, active voice is necessary and should be the only writing style used therein. While this is less of an issue in fictional writing or creative writing, in the completion of academic papers, passive voice is frowned on to a large degree.
Passive voice is not a grammatical issue, as many teachers would have their students believe; it is a stylistic issue. This distinction may not seem very important, but it was critical to my understanding of the matter. I was constantly told that passive writing was wrong, and that I should not be using it in my writing. I would get anxiety attacks whenever the blue squiggly line would come up in Word, informing me of yet another instance of passive voice. In order to work to become a better writer, I started looking into the matter and talking to my old high school English teacher. While we had never directly covered passive voice in high school, she was still the most well learned individual that I knew and was more than willing to help out past students. It was this woman who took time out of her weekends to assist me in understanding this matter through the medium of Facebook. While she showed me how to rework my basic sentence structures to remove passive voice as much as possible, and she reduced my anxiety about the presence of passive voice in my academic papers, the fact of the matter was that it was still a challenge for me.
No matter how much I applied the skills that she taught me, I still found my nemesis present within my papers. The ever present blue squiggle. I now had the skills necessary to remove as much passive voice as possible, changing it to active voice, but this still took a great deal of time. I continued to struggle with this area of writing, convinced that I would not quite get the hang of it, that I would always have to spend that extra amount of time going back and removing passive voice. One day, however, I got frustrated. I was tired. I was up all night working on a paper and I was still up the next day, watching the sun get slowly higher in the sky as I worked through the pages I had written, going back and removing passive voice. It was because I was tired that I decided to stop looking at the paper and went to play on the internet. In my stumbling about the internet, I read something. The easiest way to identify passive voice, it said, was to add “by zombies” to the sentence. If the verb could be completed by zombies, passive voice was present. If the verb in the sentence could not be acted upon by zombies, active voice was present. This made sense! I wondered why no one had explained this helpful trick before.
I decided to try it. Sure enough, every sentence I had written that had a blue squiggle under it could be completed by zombies. The food was eaten by zombies. The paper was written by zombies (not a wholly inaccurate assessment, given the amount of time I had worked on the paper straight), but the idea is still present. I started trying to pay attention to this as I was writing. I found that if I thought of every action in my paper as to whether or not it was completed by zombies, the passive voice in my papers started to disappear. While there were still instances of passive voice present in some of my papers, it was no longer present in all of my papers and it was present only when necessary, making it wholly appropriate. I started to see my grades slowly rising. I was getting it down!
I have, by no means, worked to correct all my issues with passive voice; I still find it to be challenging. I have, however, found a method that, if I work to concentrate a bit more on what I am writing, allows me to reduce my stylistic errors present in my papers. I hope that one day I will be able to simply write what I want to write, without worrying about whether my paper is an academic one or the set of a Romero movie, but in the meantime, this trick has worked to improve my writing style. A writer should always look for ways to continuously improve his or her skills, and this is a beneficial tool that could be used by many, if they were only made aware that such a trick existed.