Author: Kate Sunners


Can we talk about Passive Writing? Can the Passive Writing be spoken about by us?


So much of the confusing writing I see, which I find I must read over twice or three times to understand, is the fault of passive voice. Passive voice or passive writing is a really common writing gaff in every field (academia, bureaucracy and scientific writing are some of the worst) – and grant writing is no exception!

But as grant writers, we must know how to get to the direct meaning as quickly as possible so as to fit within tight word limits.

Knowing how to rid your application of pesky passive could be the difference between a funder understanding what your project is about, and putting it on the reject pile because they can’t make sense of it!

How do we identify passive writing?

Technically passive sentences are not grammatically wrong, but they sound less direct and often get in the way of clarity. If you’re looking at a sentence in which an inanimate object seems to have played some part in the doing, you’re probably looking at a passive sentence.

The pizza was gobbled by the hungry grant writer – would be an example.

The pizza is sitting in the spot where the actor/subject of the sentence (the grant writer) should be sitting, making it seem like it is acting on the grant writer, rather than the grant writer acting on the pizza. The hungry grant writer gobbled the pizza is much more direct and if you’re constrained by a word count, it’s only 7 words instead of 9.

Another less obvious example: The application was submitted by the grant writer on July fourth.

Again, it’s not grammatically incorrect, but it is passive. What would a more direct form be?

The grant writer submitted the application on July fourth. 9 words instead of 11! These things count when you’re going mad trying to cut words without losing sense!


How do we make sure we’re not using passive writing?

If the actor/subject is placed prior to the verb that relates to it, most likely you’ve got a nice direct sentence. If the actor/subject is placed after the verb, chances are you’re looking at a passive sentence.

If you’re still unsure, check who or what is the subject of the sentence and play around with sticking it in front of the verb until it sounds right! Also consider breaking up long sentences if you are having trouble making your sentences direct.

Getting rid of passive voice makes for concise, tight writing that is easier and more engaging for the reader – very important when your application might only be in front of them for a couple of minutes!


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