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Don’t use the passive voice in scientific writing

This is a hideous norm that must be stopped.

I remember specifically being taught in school to use the passive voice when writing “science”. The problem is that it disguises what actually happened, and implementation details matter. That studies can be done in a vacuum might hold true for a few narrow disciplines but is generally misleading. It also constrains the future use of the data.

As an example of how paucity of details can hurt, in AidGrade’s dataset, we have the year the study was published, or the year of the working paper if the paper was not published. Collaborators at Stanford are interested in matching Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data to the geocoded interventions to investigate the long-run effects. For this, we need the year the intervention itself began and ended. More than 25% of the studies for which this was coded turn out not to have this information.

Worse, when how a program was implemented matters, many studies do not report this information in sufficient detail.

I would like to have a “how to write well” book to recommend to people. Any suggestions?


2 Comments

So, what do you think ?