Module 6: Organizing and Outlining Your Speech

Methods of speech delivery, learning objectives.

Identify the four types of speech delivery methods and when to use them.

There are four basic methods of speech delivery: manuscript, memorized, impromptu, and extemporaneous. We’ll look at each method and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

George W. Bush’s manuscript page is lightly edited with a pen. It reads “Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring of strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any small way they could. Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful and prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington to help with local rescue efforts. Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks. The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open to business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong and the American economy will be open for business as well. The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

A manuscript page from President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on the day of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

A manuscript speech is when the speaker writes down every word they will speak during the speech. When they deliver the speech, they have each word planned and in front of them on the page, much like a newscaster who reads from a teleprompter.

The advantage of using a manuscript is that the speaker has access to every word they’ve prepared in advance. There is no guesswork or memorization needed. This method comforts some speakers’ nerves as they don’t have to worry about that moment where they might freeze and forget what they’ve planned to say. They also are able to make exact quotes from their source material.

When the exact wording of an idea is crucial, speakers often read from a manuscript, for instance in communicating public statements from a company.

However, the disadvantage with a manuscript is that the speakers have MANY words in front of them on the page. This prohibits one of the most important aspects of delivery, eye contact. When many words are on the page, the speakers will find themselves looking down at those words more frequently because they will need the help. If they do look up at the audience, they often cannot find their place when the eye returns to the page. Also, when nerves come into play, speakers with manuscripts often default to reading from the page and forget that they are not making eye contact or engaging their audience. Therefore, manuscript is a very difficult delivery method and not ideal.  Above all, the speakers should remember to rehearse with the script so that they practice looking up often.

Public Speaking in History

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, owed in large part to a momentary error made by an East German government spokesperson. At a live press conference, Günter Schabowski tried to explain new rules relaxing East Germany’s severe travel restrictions. A reporter asked, “when do these new rules go into effect?” Visibly flustered, Schabowski said, “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay.” In fact, the new visa application procedure was supposed to begin the following day, and with a lot of bureaucracy and red tape. Instead, thousands of East Berliners arrived within minutes at the border crossings, demanding to pass through immediately. The rest is history.

The outcome of this particular public-relations blunder was welcomed by the vast majority of East and West German citizens, and hastened the collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. It’s probably good, then, that Schabowski ran this particular press conference extemporaneously, rather than reading from a manuscript.

You can view the transcript for “The mistake that toppled the Berlin Wall” here (opens in new window) .

A memorized speech is also fully prepared in advance and one in which the speaker does not use any notes. In the case of an occasion speech like a quick toast, a brief dedication, or a short eulogy, word-for-word memorization might make sense. Usually, though, it doesn’t involve committing each and every word to memory, Memorizing a speech isn’t like memorizing a poem where you need to remember every word exactly as written. Don’t memorize a manuscript! Work with your outline instead. Practice with the outline until you can recall the content and order of your main points without effort. Then it’s just a matter of practicing until you’re able to elaborate on your key points in a natural and seamless manner. Ideally, a memorized speech will sound like an off-the-cuff statement by someone who is a really eloquent speaker and an exceptionally organized thinker!

The advantage of a memorized speech is that the speaker can fully face their audience and make lots of eye contact. The problem with a memorized speech is that speakers may get nervous and forget the parts they’ve memorized. Without any notes to lean on, the speaker may hesitate and leave lots of dead air in the room while trying to recall what was planned. Sometimes, the speaker can’t remember or find his or her place in the speech and are forced to go get the notes or go back to the PowerPoint in some capacity to try to trigger his or her memory. This can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable moment for the speaker and the audience, and is a moment which could be easily avoided by using a different speaking method.

How to: memorize a speech

There are lots of tips out there about how to memorize speeches. Here’s one that loosely follows an ancient memorization strategy called the method of loci or “memory palace,” which uses visualizations of familiar spatial environments in order to enhance the recall of information.

You can view the transcript for “How to Memorize a Speech” here (opens in new window) .

An impromptu speech is one for which there is little to no preparation. There is often not a warning even that the person may be asked to speak. For example, your speech teacher may ask you to deliver a speech on your worst pet peeve. You may or may not be given a few minutes to organize your thoughts. What should you do? DO NOT PANIC. Even under pressure, you can create a basic speech that follows the formula of an introduction, body, and conclusion. If you have a few minutes, jot down some notes that fit into each part of the speech. (In fact, the phrase “speaking off the cuff,” which means speaking without preparation, probably refers to the idea that one would jot a few notes on one’s shirt cuff before speaking impromptu.) [1] ) An introduction should include an attention getter, introduction of the topic, speaker credibility, and forecasting of main points. The body should have two or three main points. The conclusion should have a summary, call to action, and final thought. If you can organize your thoughts into those three parts, you will sound like a polished speaker. Even if you only hit two of them, it will still help you to think about the speech in those parts. For example, if a speech is being given on a pet peeve of chewed gum being left under desks in classrooms, it might be organized like this.

  • Introduction : Speaker chews gum loudly and then puts it under a desk (attention getter, demonstration). Speaker introduces themselves and the topic and why they’re qualified to speak on it (topic introduction and credibility). “I’m Katie Smith and I’ve been a student at this school for three years and witnessed this gum problem the entire time.”
  • Body : Speaker states three main points of why we shouldn’t leave gum on desks: it’s rude, it makes custodians have to work harder, it affects the next student who gets nastiness on their seat (forecast of order). Speaker then discusses those three points
  • Conclusion : Speaker summarizes those three points (summary, part 1 of conclusion), calls on the audience to pledge to never do this again (call to action), and gives a quote from Michael Jordan about respecting property (final thought).

While an impromptu speech can be challenging, the advantage is that it can also be thrilling as the speaker thinks off the cuff and says what they’re most passionate about in the moment. A speaker should not be afraid to use notes during an impromptu speech if they were given any time to organize their thoughts.

The disadvantage is that there is no time for preparation, so finding research to support claims such as quotes or facts cannot be included. The lack of preparation makes some speakers more nervous and they may struggle to engage the audience due to their nerves.


The last method of delivery we’ll look at is extemporaneous. When speaking extemporaneously, speakers prepare some notes in advance that help trigger their memory of what they planned to say. These notes are often placed on notecards. A 4”x6” notecard or 5”x7” size card works well. This size of notecards can be purchased at any office supply store. Speakers should determine what needs to go on each card by reading through their speech notes and giving themselves phrases to say out loud. These notes are not full sentences, but help the speakers, who turn them into a full sentence when spoken aloud. Note that if a quote is being used, listing that quote verbatim is fine.

The advantage of extemporaneous speaking is that the speakers are able to speak in a more conversational tone by letting the cards guide them, but not dictate every word they say. This method allows for the speakers to make more eye contact with the audience. The shorter note forms also prevent speakers from getting lost in their words. Numbering these cards also helps if one gets out of order. Also, these notes are not ones the teacher sees or collects. While you may be required to turn in your speech outline, your extemporaneous notecards are not seen by anyone but you. Therefore, you can also write yourself notes to speak up, slow down, emphasize a point, go to the next slide, etc.

The disadvantage to extemporaneous is the speakers may forget what else was planned to say or find a card to be out of order. This problem can be avoided through rehearsal and double-checking the note order before speaking.

Many speakers consider the extemporaneous method to be the ideal speaking method because it allows them to be prepared, keeps the audience engaged, and makes the speakers more natural in their delivery. In your public speaking class, most of your speeches will probably be delivered extemporaneously.

  • As per the Oxford English Dictionary' s entry for "Off the Cuff." See an extensive discussion at Mark Liberman's Language Log here: ↵
  • Method of loci definition. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • The mistake that toppled the Berlin Wall. Provided by : Vox. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • How to Memorize a Speech. Authored by : Memorize Academy. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Address to the Nation. Provided by : U.S. National Archives. Located at : . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright
  • Methods of Speech Delivery. Authored by : Misti Wills with Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution

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Chapter 32: Methods of Speech Delivery

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Distinguish between four methods of speech delivery: the impromptu speech, the manuscript speech, the memorized speech, and the extemporaneous speech
  • List the advantages and disadvantages of the four types of speeches
  • Explain why an extemporaneous is the preferred delivery style when using rhetorical theory

Key Terms and Concepts

  • extemporaneous

We have established that presentations involve much more than the transfer of information. Sure, you could treat a presentation as an opportunity to simply read a report you’ve written out loud to a group, but you would fail to both engage your audience and make a connection with them. In other words, you would leave them wondering exactly why they had to listen to your presentation instead of reading  it at their leisure.

The Four Methods of Speech Delivery

One of the ways to ensure that you engage your audience effectively is by carefully considering how best to deliver your speech. Each of you has sat in a class, presentation, or meeting where you didn’t feel interested in the information the presenter was sharing. Part of the reason for your disengagement likely originated in the presenter’s method of speech delivery .

For our purposes, there are four different methods—or types—of speech delivery used in technical communication:

  • Extemporaneous

Exercise #1: The Four Methods of Speech Delivery

What comes to mind when you think about the four methods of speech delivery? How do you think they are different from one another? Have you given a speech using any of these methods before?

Watch the video below for a brief overview of each one. After you are finished, answer the questions below:

  • Which method are you most comfortable with? Why?
  • Which method are you the least comfortable with? Why?
  • Which method do you think is the best for connecting with your audience?  Why?

The public speaking section of this course will require you to deliver a speech using an extemporaneous style, but let’s take a look at how all four differ in approach:

Impromptu Speeches

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Impromptu speaking is the presentation of a short message without advanced preparation. You have probably done impromptu speaking many times in informal, conversational settings. Self-introductions in group settings are examples of impromptu speaking: “ Hi, my name is Shawnda, and I’m a student at the University of Saskatchewan .”

Another example of impromptu speaking occurs when you answer a question such as, “What did you think of the movie?” Your response has not been pre-planned, and you are constructing your arguments and points as you speak. Even worse, you might find yourself going into a meeting when your boss announces to you, “I want you to talk about the last stage of the project” with no warning.

The advantage of this kind of speaking is that it’s spontaneous and responsive in an animated group context. The  disadvantage is that the speaker is giv en little or no time to contemplate the central theme of their message. As a result, the message may be disorganized and difficult for listeners to follow.

Here is a step-by-step guide that may be useful if you are called upon to give an impromptu speech in public:

  • Take a moment to collect your thoughts and plan the main point that you want to make (like a mini thesis statement).
  • Thank the person for inviting you to speak. Do not make comments about being unprepared, called upon at the last moment, on the spot, or uneasy. In other words, try to avoid being self-deprecating!
  • Deliver your message, making your main point as briefly as you can while still covering it adequately and at a pace your listeners can follow.
  • If you can use a structure, use numbers if possible: “Two main reasons. . .” or “Three parts of our plan. . .” or “Two side effects of this drug. . .” Past, present, and future or East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast are pre-fab structures.
  • Thank the person again for the opportunity to speak.
  • Stop talking. It is easy to “ramble on” when you don’t have something prepared. If in front of an audience, don’t keep talking as you move back to your seat.

Impromptu speeches are generally most successful when they are brief and focus on a single point.

We recommend practicing your impromptu speaking regularly. Do you want to work on reducing your vocalized pauses in a formal setting? Great! You can begin that process by being conscious of your vocalized fillers during informal conversations and settings.

Exercise #2: Impromptu Speech Example

Below are two examples of an impromptu speech. In the first video, a teacher is demonstrating an impromptu speech to his students on the topic of strawberries. He quickly jots down some notes before presenting.

What works in his speech? What could be improved?

Link to Original Video:

In the above example, the teacher did an okay job, considering how little time he had to prepare.

In this next example, you will see just how badly an impromptu speech can go. It is a video of a best man speech at a wedding. Keep in mind that the speaker is the groom’s brother.

Is there anything that he does well? What are some problems with his speech?

Link to Original Video:

Manuscript Speeches

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Manuscript  speaking is the word-for-word iteration of a written message. In a manuscript speech, the speaker maintains their attention on the printed page except when using presentation aids.

The advantage to reading from a manuscript is the exact repetition of original words. This can be extremely important in some circumstances. For example, reading a statement about your organization’s legal responsibilities to customers may require that the original words be exact. In reading one word at a time, in order, the only errors would typically be the mispronunciation of a word or stumbling over complex sentence structure. A manuscript speech may also be appropriate at a more formal affair (like a funeral), when your speech must be said exactly as written in order to convey the proper emotion the situation deserves.

However, there are costs involved in manuscript speaking. First, it’s typically an uninteresting way to present. Unless the speaker has rehearsed the reading as a complete performance animated with vocal expression and gestures (well-known authors often do this for book readings), the presentation tends to be dull. Keeping one’s eyes glued to the script prevents eye contact with the audience.

For this kind of “straight” manuscript speech to hold audience attention, the audience must be already interested in the message and speaker before the delivery begins. Finally, because the full notes are required, speakers often require a lectern to place their notes, restricting movement and the ability to engage with the audience. Without something to place the notes on, speakers have to manage full-page speaking notes, and that can be distracting.

It is worth noting that professional speakers, actors, news reporters, and politicians often read from an autocue device such as a teleprompter. This device is especially common when these people appear on television where eye contact with the camera is crucial. With practice, a speaker can achieve a conversational tone and give the impression of speaking extemporaneously and maintaining eye contact while using an autocue device.

However, success in this medium depends on two factors:

  • the speaker is already an accomplished public speaker who has learned to use a conversational tone while delivering a prepared script, and
  • the speech is written in a style that sounds conversational.

Exercise #3: Manuscript Speech Example

Below is a video that shows an example of a manuscript speech. In the video, US Presidential Historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, gives a speech about different US presidents.

What works in her speech? What could be improved?

Link to Original Video:

Here’s a video that shows the dangers of relying on a manuscript for your speech:

Michael Bay heavily relied on his manuscript , so when he suddenly lost access to it, he was left feeling embarrassed and had to hastily leave the stage. As a result, he experienced face loss .

Link to original video:

Memorized Speeches

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Memorized  speaking is reciting a written message that the speaker has committed to memory. Actors, of course, recite from memory whenever they perform from a script in a stage play, television program, or movie. When it comes to speeches, memorization can be useful when the message needs to be exact and the speaker doesn’t want to be confined by notes.

The advantage to memorization is that it enables the speaker to maintain eye contact with the audience throughout the speech. Being free of notes means that you can move freely around the stage and use your hands to make gestures. If your speech uses presentation aids, this freedom is even more of an advantage.

Memorization, however, can be tricky. First, if you lose your place and start trying to ad lib, the contrast in your style of delivery will alert your audience that something is wrong. If you go completely blank during the presentation, it will be extremely difficult to find your place and keep going. Obviously, memorizing a typical seven-minute classroom speech takes a great deal of time and effort, and if you aren’t used to memorizing, it is very difficult to pull off.

Exercise #4: Memorized Speech Example

Below is a video that shows an example of a memorized speech. In the video, former Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, responds to Barack Obama’s State of the Union address back in 2009.

Extemporaneous Speeches

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Extemporaneous speaking is the presentation of a carefully planned and rehearsed speech, spoken in a conversational manner using brief notes.

Speaking extemporaneously has some advantages. It promotes the likelihood that you, the speaker, will be perceived as knowledgeable and credible since you know the speech well enough that you don’t need to read it. In addition, your audience is likely to pay better attention to the message because it is engaging both verbally and nonverbally.

By using notes rather than a full manuscript (or everything that you’re going to say), the extemporaneous speaker can establish and maintain eye contact with the audience and assess how well they are understanding the speech as it progresses. It also allows flexibility; you are working from the strong foundation of an outline, but if you need to delete, add, or rephrase something at the last minute or to adapt to your audience, you can do so. The outline also helps you be aware of main ideas vs. subordinate ones.

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Compared to the other three types of speech delivery, an extemporaneous style is the best for engaging your audience and making yourself sound like a natural speaker.

The video below provides some tips on how to deliver a speech using this method:

Link to Original Video:

The slide below provides a brief overview of tips for preparing your extemporaneous presentation:

research papers and technical report use this type of speech style

Exercise# 5: Extemporaneous Speech Example

Below is a video that shows an example of an extemporaneous speech. In the video, a former University of Saskatchewan student tries to persuade her peers to spend more solo time outside.

Link to Original Video:

Key Takeaways

  • When designing any speech, it’s important to consider how you will deliver that speech. In technical communication, there are four different types of speech delivery, each with their advantages and disadvantages. They are: impromptu , manuscript , memorized , and extemporaneous .
  • An impromptu  speech can take many forms such as a toast at a wedding, being asked to give a project update at a meeting, or even simply meeting someone for the first time. While this type of speech can be spontaneous and responsive, the speaker generally has little to no warning that they will need to speak.
  • A  manuscript speech is completely written out and read word for word.  It is often a good style when you want to nail the specific wording and do not want to make an error. However, this type of speech is not very persuasive because it does not take advantage of the immediacy of public speaking. It also completely removes audience relation from the process.
  • A  memorized  speech is when a speaker commits an entire speech to memory. This style also harms relation with the audience because the speaker is more focused on remembering the text of the speech rather than communicating with the audience. Additionally, if you lose your place and need to ad lib, it may be obvious to your audience.
  • An extemporaneous speech is done in a natural, conversational speaking style. While it is carefully planned, it is never completely written out like a manuscript.  It is also not read or memorized . Instead, an outline is used to help guide the speaker. As a result, more attention can be paid to the audience, allowing the speaker to better connect with them and make adjustments as necessary. This is the style we want you to use for your presentation assignment in RCM 200.


This chapter is adapted from “ Communication for Business Professionals ” by eCampusOntario (on Open Library ). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License .

This chapter is also adapted from “ Speak Out, Call In: Public Speaking as Advocacy ” by Meggie Mapes (on Pressbooks ). It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License .

a speech delivery method where a short message is presented without advanced preparation

a speech delivery method where a message is read word-for-word off a written page or autocue device

a speech delivery method where a message is presented after being committed to memory by the speaker

a speech delivery method where the presentation is carefully planned and rehearsed, but spoken in a conversational manner using brief notes

the experience of feeling judged, or feeling that people do not recognize us as we perceive ourselves to be

Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach Copyright © 2021 by Rebekah Bennetch; Corey Owen; and Zachary Keesey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Chapter 3. Writing in a Technical Communications Style

In this chapter.

  • Understanding writing style and recognizing the importance of writing in a style that meets readers’ expectations
  • Discussion of effective technical communications style that is defined as concise , precise , direct , and well organized
  • Recognizing and using meaningful, precise language

3.1 Voice and tone

  • Understanding and using appropriate language, voice, and perspective in engineering communications
  • Addressing common issues with writing in the discipline—active vs. passive voice, nominalization, personal vs. impersonal tone

3.2 Mechanics and grammar

  • Learning to recognize and address habits and errors in your writing
  • Reviewing common grammatical issues that affect students in FE and FEH

3.3 Citations and citation styles

  • Recognizing the role of citing sources in written documents
  • Reviewing the basics components of citations in IEEE and APA style

A technical communications writing style is (almost always) concise, precise, direct, and well organized . The following sections outline useful tips and best practices, but know that these are only a starting point. Writing style is something you must be aware of and continually work to refine as you develop your communication skills.

A technical communications writing style prioritizes the efficient transfer of information —this may be a change from the types of writing you have done in the past. “High school writing” is more typically descriptive expository essays with a length requirement. Technical communication asks you to document information and communicate it in a concise, precise, and professional way. The focus tends to be more on how well the writing achieves that goal rather than on proving that you read or understand something.

Writing assignments often provide specific structures or lists of required elements; however, simply fulfilling these guidelines is rarely enough to create a cohesive, clear document. To be a successful writer not just in first year engineering, but in your major courses and career, you must be attentive to the ways your writing style needs to vary from one situation to the next.

Understanding “Writing Style”

To understand what “writing style” is, think about all the different ways people talk. With their tone of voice, volume, and speed of delivery, they are able to project different moods, personalities, and purposes. Think about how a person sounds while they’re telling a funny story. Then think about how a person sounds while telling you about their problems.

You might also intuitively know that certain ways of speaking are appropriate for some situations, but not for others. If you wanted to deliver a passionate speech to persuade your audience to vote for you, you certainly wouldn’t want to sound like you were delivering a eulogy at a funeral (or vice versa).

Those same concepts apply to your writing. How you deliver information—the voice, tone, mood of your writing—is the “style.” It affects how well your audience will understand and respond to the information you are trying to communicate. Since writing style affects how your reader responds, be aware of and use it to help you achieve your purpose.

In most situations, you must also communicate in the style your reader expects. This is often driven by genre (type of document) and context. If you are asked to produce a lab report, your reader will have certain expectations about what goes in it, and if you don’t meet those expectations, it will reflect poorly on you as a communicator and make it less likely that your message is delivered.

Since writing style affects how your reader responds, be aware of and use it to help you achieve your purpose.

Audience and purpose, then, will always affect your writing style, as discussed in Understanding Your Audience . In this chapter, you will find guidance for developing a general technical communications writing style for documents common to First Year Engineering.

Sentences should be clear and simple, communicating one concept per sentence. In situations where you want your message to be unambiguous, simple, short, direct sentences are best.

Avoid “filler” or “fluff” that clutters up your writing and does not provide useful information. Here are some common types of “filler” to be aware of:

Examples of editing for concision

Keep in mind, however, that shorter is not always better. For example, there may be times when you might sacrifice concision for the sake of sounding more personable, friendly or conversational. If you have to deliver bad news, a two-sentence email might come across as rude or uncaring, while writing a longer email that builds rapport and includes more qualitative, personable touches might soften the blow. This approach could have a positive impact on a team dynamic or a client relationship so that, even with a slightly higher word count, the final outcome is better.

Practice & Application: Exercise D – Software Design Pitch Video Prep

Precise wording avoids ambiguity and ensures the correct information is conveyed to your reader. This is obviously essential to engineering settings, where highly technical information is being communicated.

Precise writing will generally meet the following criteria:

  • Statements are verifiable. Ambiguity might provide a sense of security, but leads to documents that, at best, need to be further investigated. Imprecise language in the workplace can lead to dangerous misapplication of results.
  • Statements are specific and meaningful. Phrases or descriptors that are used in everyday life are often not appropriate in a technical document. Words like “cold” or “best” are meaningless unless a standard of comparison is established. What is considered “cold” for a metal? For organic material?
  • Descriptors are quantified whenever possible. If exact data is not known, it should be replaced with objective observations, e.g., “The water began to boil.” When making quality determinations like “better” or “best,” determine what criteria you are using and instead of making a subjective statement, share that criteria with your reader.
  • Word choice accurately represents the level of certainty. Words like “prove,” “guarantee,” or “certainty,” communicate a finality that rarely exists in science and engineering. You will often draw conclusions based on evidence, but it is unlikely that you will ever prove or guarantee the results of your experiment or design. Use words that are accurate and still allow for uncertainty, such as: “indicate,” “suggest,” “highly likely,” “reduce,” “decrease” or “increase”

Application: Addressing error in lab documentation

In lab documentation, systematic and random error should be addressed. The report should address both the potential errors that could have occurred and the effect those errors would have on the results.

Systematic error is an error that cannot be lessened through continued trials. These errors often occur when tools are not sufficiently accurate or a model is used that does not fully explain the system being studied. Address inaccurate simplifying assumptions made in the experimental design or analysis. For example, many experiments assume that there are no frictional losses in a system. This may significantly impact the results of an experiment testing the performance of a motor. Results should acknowledge that additional losses due to friction were not considered.

Random errors are unpredictable factors that affect the data gathered from the experiment. The effects of random errors can be minimized through repeated trials. For example, if a beaker should be filled to exactly 20ml, it is approximately equally likely that the researcher would fill the beaker slightly above or below that level. After multiple trials, the average level should be close to 20ml. If it is not, there are likely systematic errors also affecting the experiment.

Practice & Application: Exercise E – Making Data Meaningful

Technical communication should get to the point quickly—readers need to know right away what to expect and if the document will meet their needs.

A key aspect of directness in writing style is vocabulary. The most direct approach will use vocabulary that is right for the situation and doesn’t use “fancy” or “flowery” words in an attempt to sound “smart” or impressive.

It is tempting to write unnecessarily complex sentences in an attempt to elevate the perception of your expertise, but this can obscure the message being communicated…  Wait, let’s try that again…

Writing unnecessarily complex sentences is tempting when you are trying to seem smart, but this can make your message less clear. Better!

In most professional communications, the goal is to sound knowledgeable, yet unpretentious and natural for the situation and audience . Use jargon only if it improves the quality of the communication. See Understanding Your Audience  for a discussion of appropriate levels of technicality based on audience type.

Some examples of “flowery” language (and more direct replacements):

  • ascertain (determine, learn)
  • terminate (end)
  • utilize (use)
  • employ (use)
  • endeavor (try)
  • herein (here)
  • procure (get)
  • rendered inoperative (failed)

Here are some additional practical ways to ensure directness in technical and professional writing:

  • When possible, put the most important information near the beginning—stating a request in the first lines an email or making a recommendation in the opening of a report are both examples of being direct in the ideas/information.
  • Some types of documents, like memos, will require a specific purpose statement, but any communication should clearly tell the reader what they can expect to find, similar to the “In this Chapter” call-outs used in this guide.
  • Use concise, meaningful subject lines for professional emails. Include specific keywords and indicate the purpose of the communication (words like “request,” “scheduling,” or “update” help the reader identify the purpose).

This is important for communicators in many contexts, and the policy of Plain Language is a useful example of a real-world application of “directness” in communication.

Plain Language as an example of “Direct” communication

In 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the Plain Writing Act, which established that government documents issued to the public must be written clearly. Guidelines for plain language have been developed around the world to enhance the public’s access to information. The U.S. guidelines state that users should be able to find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.

Plain language is a method of communicating information that focuses on the reader’s experience. How can the information be presented in a way that is useful to the reader? Different types of communication will require different levels of background information, but the important information should always be easy to access.

Well Organized

The order in which  information is presented affects how easily it will be understood. As a communicator, you will need to make sure that any document, email, or presentation you create has an intentional, logical, and consistent organization.

To be successful as a communicator, you must first understand the organization of the communication and then project that to your audience. Having a “big picture view” of the document’s purpose and structure early in the writing process  is key—it is difficult to impose good organization on a piece of writing unless you have carefully considered organization from the start.

Here are some practical ways to make a document clearly well organized:

  • Outline the document during the “Represent & Plan” stage of the writing process. This is especially useful when writing as part of a team because it ensures that each team member has a shared understanding of how each section “fits” into the larger document.
  • “This report outlines the need for this program and then offers specific evidence to support the proposed plan.”
  • “In the following sections, we provide an overview of the experimental methodology, present the findings, analyze the data, and offer our conclusions and recommendations.”
  • Divide longer documents with headings and subheadings so your reader can navigate easily; give presentation slides meaningful titles, section headings, and slide titles. These types of cues will make your organizational patterns visible to your audience.
  • Addition or connection: also, first/second/third, in addition to, moreover
  • Result: as a result, and so, therefore, because, as a consequence
  • Comparison: similarly, likewise, in the same way
  • Contrast or alternative: however, yet, still, otherwise, on the other hand, on the contrary, nevertheless, notwithstanding
  • Example or explanation: for instance, for example, specifically, in fact, in other words
  • Summary or conclusion: finally, in conclusion, in closing
  • Use simple, direct topic sentences to open paragraphs (BLUF) and then support them with more detailed information. See Paragraphs for more information.

There are several models that technical communications often follow to present information.

While your reader should be able to find specific information easily, they should also see a clear direction for your document as a whole. Consider your reader’s experience empathetically. If you were reading this document, where would you expect to find certain information? Will your reader gain a clear understanding of your process from reading the document from start to finish?

A Note About Lab Report Organization

A Lab Report contains sections for Results and Discussion. Students often present the data from a specific portion of the lab, then immediately discuss the meaning of that data within the Results section before moving on to the results of the next portion.

From a chronological perspective that seems logical, but that is not the structure of a lab report. Switching back and forth from results to interpretation is awkward and may leave your reader looking for data interpretation in the Discussion section that is not there.

See Lab Report Content Guide for more information.

Practice & Application: Exercise F – Precision and Paragraph Organization

Key Takeaways

  • Meaningful?
  • Verifiable?
  • Useful information for my reader?

Additional Resources

The Basics of Scientific Writing (University of Nebraska)

Fundamentals of Engineering Technical Communications Copyright © by Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Formal and Informal Style

Whether you use formal or informal style in writing will depend on the assignment itself, its subject, purpose, and audience.

Formal language is characterized by the use of standard English, more complex sentence structures, infrequent use of personal pronouns, and lack of colloquial or slang terms.

Informal language allows the use of nonstandard English forms, colloquial vocabulary and typically shorter sentence structures.

The choice of formal or informal style will affect the following areas:

  • standard or nonstandard English
  • choice of vocabulary
  • use of contractions
  • use of pronouns

Rule to Remember

Formal style affects the form of English, the choice of vocabulary, and the use of contractions and pronouns.

Standard or Nonstandard English

Standard English is the language used in professional and business communication. It is the form of English that follows the formal rules of the language.

Nonstandard English uses regional or social language variations. Nonstandard English should only be used when there is a purpose for it in writing. For example, it can be used in a narrative to describe a person with a specific regional dialect. Otherwise, the standard form of English should be used.

Choice of Vocabulary

Vocabulary  needs to be adjusted depending on the level of formality of any written work.

Consider the following words: investigate, examine, check out . Each of them has a different level of formality. While check out can be used in informal writing and speech, using it in a formal research paper would not be appropriate.

Use more formal vocabulary and avoid the use of contractions in formal writing.

Sometimes the whole sentence needs to be rephrased:

Contractions are more casual, and if you are striving for more formal style, they should not be used. Contractions in negative sentences should be especially avoided since they are easy to miss.

The Use of Pronouns

Formal language tends to be impersonal and precise. The use of pronouns , therefore, is restricted. In formal writing, when addressing the audience, you may use the passive voice or an adverbial clause in place of the personal pronoun:

Restrict the use of personal pronouns in formal writing.

The writer's presence, signaled by the use of the personal pronoun I , or we (if there are several authors), can also make writing more informal and less credible.

The second sentence is more formal and can be perceived by the audience to be more credible.

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Academic writing refers to a style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and specific areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like specialist languages adopted in other professions, such as, law or medicine, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts within a community of scholarly experts and practitioners.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020.

Importance of Good Academic Writing

The accepted form of academic writing in the social sciences can vary considerable depending on the methodological framework and the intended audience. However, most college-level research papers require careful attention to the following stylistic elements:

I.  The Big Picture Unlike creative or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohesive and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be narrative links between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader is able to follow your argument. The introduction should include a description of how the rest of the paper is organized and all sources are properly cited throughout the paper.

II.  Tone The overall tone refers to the attitude conveyed in a piece of writing. Throughout your paper, it is important that you present the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate narrative tone. When presenting a position or argument that you disagree with, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. You should, therefore, state the strengths of your arguments confidently, using language that is neutral, not confrontational or dismissive.

III.  Diction Diction refers to the choice of words you use. Awareness of the words you use is important because words that have almost the same denotation [dictionary definition] can have very different connotations [implied meanings]. This is particularly true in academic writing because words and terminology can evolve a nuanced meaning that describes a particular idea, concept, or phenomenon derived from the epistemological culture of that discipline [e.g., the concept of rational choice in political science]. Therefore, use concrete words [not general] that convey a specific meaning. If this cannot be done without confusing the reader, then you need to explain what you mean within the context of how that word or phrase is used within a discipline.

IV.  Language The investigation of research problems in the social sciences is often complex and multi- dimensional . Therefore, it is important that you use unambiguous language. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and express precisely what you want it to mean. Do not use vague expressions that are not specific or precise enough for the reader to derive exact meaning ["they," "we," "people," "the organization," etc.], abbreviations like 'i.e.'  ["in other words"], 'e.g.' ["for example"], or 'a.k.a.' ["also known as"], and the use of unspecific determinate words ["super," "very," "incredible," "huge," etc.].

V.  Punctuation Scholars rely on precise words and language to establish the narrative tone of their work and, therefore, punctuation marks are used very deliberately. For example, exclamation points are rarely used to express a heightened tone because it can come across as unsophisticated or over-excited. Dashes should be limited to the insertion of an explanatory comment in a sentence, while hyphens should be limited to connecting prefixes to words [e.g., multi-disciplinary] or when forming compound phrases [e.g., commander-in-chief]. Finally, understand that semi-colons represent a pause that is longer than a comma, but shorter than a period in a sentence. In general, there are four grammatical uses of semi-colons: when a second clause expands or explains the first clause; to describe a sequence of actions or different aspects of the same topic; placed before clauses which begin with "nevertheless", "therefore", "even so," and "for instance”; and, to mark off a series of phrases or clauses which contain commas. If you are not confident about when to use semi-colons [and most of the time, they are not required for proper punctuation], rewrite using shorter sentences or revise the paragraph.

VI.  Academic Conventions Citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of references as either footnotes or endnotes is a key feature of academic writing. It is essential to always acknowledge the source of any ideas, research findings, data, paraphrased, or quoted text that you have used in your paper as a defense against allegations of plagiarism. Even more important, the scholarly convention of citing sources allow readers to identify the resources you used in writing your paper so they can independently verify and assess the quality of findings and conclusions based on your review of the literature. Examples of other academic conventions to follow include the appropriate use of headings and subheadings, properly spelling out acronyms when first used in the text, avoiding slang or colloquial language, avoiding emotive language or unsupported declarative statements, avoiding contractions [e.g., isn't], and using first person and second person pronouns only when necessary.

VII.  Evidence-Based Reasoning Assignments often ask you to express your own point of view about the research problem. However, what is valued in academic writing is that statements are based on evidence-based reasoning. This refers to possessing a clear understanding of the pertinent body of knowledge and academic debates that exist within, and often external to, your discipline concerning the topic. You need to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly [i.e., academic or peer-reviewed] sources. It should be an objective stance presented as a logical argument; the quality of the evidence you cite will determine the strength of your argument. The objective is to convince the reader of the validity of your thoughts through a well-documented, coherent, and logically structured piece of writing. This is particularly important when proposing solutions to problems or delineating recommended courses of action.

VIII.  Thesis-Driven Academic writing is “thesis-driven,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or position applied to the chosen topic of investigation, such as, establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the questions applied to investigating the research problem. Note that a problem statement without the research questions does not qualify as academic writing because simply identifying the research problem does not establish for the reader how you will contribute to solving the problem, what aspects you believe are most critical, or suggest a method for gathering information or data to better understand the problem.

IX.  Complexity and Higher-Order Thinking Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking as opposed to, for example, descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. Higher-order thinking skills include cognitive processes that are used to comprehend, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily acted out, pointed to, or shown with images. Think of your writing this way: One of the most important attributes of a good teacher is the ability to explain complexity in a way that is understandable and relatable to the topic being presented during class. This is also one of the main functions of academic writing--examining and explaining the significance of complex ideas as clearly as possible.  As a writer, you must adopt the role of a good teacher by summarizing complex information into a well-organized synthesis of ideas, concepts, and recommendations that contribute to a better understanding of the research problem.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Roy. Improve Your Writing Skills . Manchester, UK: Clifton Press, 1995; Nygaard, Lynn P. Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2015; Silvia, Paul J. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007; Style, Diction, Tone, and Voice. Writing Center, Wheaton College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Strategies for...

Understanding Academic Writing and Its Jargon

The very definition of research jargon is language specific to a particular community of practitioner-researchers . Therefore, in modern university life, jargon represents the specific language and meaning assigned to words and phrases specific to a discipline or area of study. For example, the idea of being rational may hold the same general meaning in both political science and psychology, but its application to understanding and explaining phenomena within the research domain of a each discipline may have subtle differences based upon how scholars in that discipline apply the concept to the theories and practice of their work.

Given this, it is important that specialist terminology [i.e., jargon] must be used accurately and applied under the appropriate conditions . Subject-specific dictionaries are the best places to confirm the meaning of terms within the context of a specific discipline. These can be found by either searching in the USC Libraries catalog by entering the disciplinary and the word dictionary [e.g., sociology and dictionary] or using a database such as Credo Reference [a curated collection of subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, guides from highly regarded publishers] . It is appropriate for you to use specialist language within your field of study, but you should avoid using such language when writing for non-academic or general audiences.

Problems with Opaque Writing

A common criticism of scholars is that they can utilize needlessly complex syntax or overly expansive vocabulary that is impenetrable or not well-defined. When writing, avoid problems associated with opaque writing by keeping in mind the following:

1.   Excessive use of specialized terminology . Yes, it is appropriate for you to use specialist language and a formal style of expression in academic writing, but it does not mean using "big words" just for the sake of doing so. Overuse of complex or obscure words or writing complicated sentence constructions gives readers the impression that your paper is more about style than substance; it leads the reader to question if you really know what you are talking about. Focus on creating clear, concise, and elegant prose that minimizes reliance on specialized terminology.

2.   Inappropriate use of specialized terminology . Because you are dealing with concepts, research, and data within your discipline, you need to use the technical language appropriate to that area of study. However, nothing will undermine the validity of your study quicker than the inappropriate application of a term or concept. Avoid using terms whose meaning you are unsure of--do not just guess or assume! Consult the meaning of terms in specialized, discipline-specific dictionaries by searching the USC Libraries catalog or the Credo Reference database [see above].

Additional Problems to Avoid

In addition to understanding the use of specialized language, there are other aspects of academic writing in the social sciences that you should be aware of. These problems include:

  • Personal nouns . Excessive use of personal nouns [e.g., I, me, you, us] may lead the reader to believe the study was overly subjective. These words can be interpreted as being used only to avoid presenting empirical evidence about the research problem. Limit the use of personal nouns to descriptions of things you actually did [e.g., "I interviewed ten teachers about classroom management techniques..."]. Note that personal nouns are generally found in the discussion section of a paper because this is where you as the author/researcher interpret and describe your work.
  • Directives . Avoid directives that demand the reader to "do this" or "do that." Directives should be framed as evidence-based recommendations or goals leading to specific outcomes. Note that an exception to this can be found in various forms of action research that involve evidence-based advocacy for social justice or transformative change. Within this area of the social sciences, authors may offer directives for action in a declarative tone of urgency.
  • Informal, conversational tone using slang and idioms . Academic writing relies on excellent grammar and precise word structure. Your narrative should not include regional dialects or slang terms because they can be open to interpretation. Your writing should be direct and concise using standard English.
  • Wordiness. Focus on being concise, straightforward, and developing a narrative that does not have confusing language . By doing so, you  help eliminate the possibility of the reader misinterpreting the design and purpose of your study.
  • Vague expressions (e.g., "they," "we," "people," "the company," "that area," etc.). Being concise in your writing also includes avoiding vague references to persons, places, or things. While proofreading your paper, be sure to look for and edit any vague or imprecise statements that lack context or specificity.
  • Numbered lists and bulleted items . The use of bulleted items or lists should be used only if the narrative dictates a need for clarity. For example, it is fine to state, "The four main problems with hedge funds are:" and then list them as 1, 2, 3, 4. However, in academic writing, this must then be followed by detailed explanation and analysis of each item. Given this, the question you should ask yourself while proofreading is: why begin with a list in the first place rather than just starting with systematic analysis of each item arranged in separate paragraphs? Also, be careful using numbers because they can imply a ranked order of priority or importance. If none exists, use bullets and avoid checkmarks or other symbols.
  • Descriptive writing . Describing a research problem is an important means of contextualizing a study. In fact, some description or background information may be needed because you can not assume the reader knows the key aspects of the topic. However, the content of your paper should focus on methodology, the analysis and interpretation of findings, and their implications as they apply to the research problem rather than background information and descriptions of tangential issues.
  • Personal experience. Drawing upon personal experience [e.g., traveling abroad; caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease] can be an effective way of introducing the research problem or engaging your readers in understanding its significance. Use personal experience only as an example, though, because academic writing relies on evidence-based research. To do otherwise is simply story-telling.

NOTE:   Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone.  A quote should be inserted in the text of your paper exactly as it was stated. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it or using a different quote to convey the same meaning. Consider inserting the term "sic" in brackets after the quoted text to indicate that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, but the source had grammar, spelling, or other errors. The adverb sic informs the reader that the errors are not yours.

Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Eileen S. “Action Research.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education . Edited by George W. Noblit and Joseph R. Neikirk. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); Oppenheimer, Daniel M. "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (2006): 139-156; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020; Pernawan, Ari. Common Flaws in Students' Research Proposals. English Education Department. Yogyakarta State University; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Structure and Writing Style

I. Improving Academic Writing

To improve your academic writing skills, you should focus your efforts on three key areas: 1.   Clear Writing . The act of thinking about precedes the process of writing about. Good writers spend sufficient time distilling information and reviewing major points from the literature they have reviewed before creating their work. Writing detailed outlines can help you clearly organize your thoughts. Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully. 2.  Excellent Grammar . Needless to say, English grammar can be difficult and complex; even the best scholars take many years before they have a command of the major points of good grammar. Take the time to learn the major and minor points of good grammar. Spend time practicing writing and seek detailed feedback from professors. Take advantage of the Writing Center on campus if you need help. Proper punctuation and good proofreading skills can significantly improve academic writing [see sub-tab for proofreading you paper ].

Refer to these three basic resources to help your grammar and writing skills:

  • A good writing reference book, such as, Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style or the St. Martin's Handbook ;
  • A college-level dictionary, such as, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ;
  • The latest edition of Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form .

3.  Consistent Stylistic Approach . Whether your professor expresses a preference to use MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style or not, choose one style manual and stick to it. Each of these style manuals provide rules on how to write out numbers, references, citations, footnotes, and lists. Consistent adherence to a style of writing helps with the narrative flow of your paper and improves its readability. Note that some disciplines require a particular style [e.g., education uses APA] so as you write more papers within your major, your familiarity with it will improve.

II. Evaluating Quality of Writing

A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, critically assess the following elements in your writing.

  • It is shaped around one clear research problem, and it explains what that problem is from the outset.
  • Your paper tells the reader why the problem is important and why people should know about it.
  • You have accurately and thoroughly informed the reader what has already been published about this problem or others related to it and noted important gaps in the research.
  • You have provided evidence to support your argument that the reader finds convincing.
  • The paper includes a description of how and why particular evidence was collected and analyzed, and why specific theoretical arguments or concepts were used.
  • The paper is made up of paragraphs, each containing only one controlling idea.
  • You indicate how each section of the paper addresses the research problem.
  • You have considered counter-arguments or counter-examples where they are relevant.
  • Arguments, evidence, and their significance have been presented in the conclusion.
  • Limitations of your research have been explained as evidence of the potential need for further study.
  • The narrative flows in a clear, accurate, and well-organized way.

Boscoloa, Pietro, Barbara Arféb, and Mara Quarisaa. “Improving the Quality of Students' Academic Writing: An Intervention Study.” Studies in Higher Education 32 (August 2007): 419-438; Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; Candlin, Christopher. Academic Writing Step-By-Step: A Research-based Approach . Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2016; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Style . College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

Considering the Passive Voice in Academic Writing

In the English language, we are able to construct sentences in the following way: 1.  "The policies of Congress caused the economic crisis." 2.  "The economic crisis was caused by the policies of Congress."

The decision about which sentence to use is governed by whether you want to focus on “Congress” and what they did, or on “the economic crisis” and what caused it. This choice in focus is achieved with the use of either the active or the passive voice. When you want your readers to focus on the "doer" of an action, you can make the "doer"' the subject of the sentence and use the active form of the verb. When you want readers to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself, you can make the effect or the action the subject of the sentence by using the passive form of the verb.

Often in academic writing, scholars don't want to focus on who is doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the consequences of that action. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence.

Use the passive voice when:

  • You want to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself;
  • It is not important who or what did the action;
  • You want to be impersonal or more formal.

Form the passive voice by:

  • Turning the object of the active sentence into the subject of the passive sentence.
  • Changing the verb to a passive form by adding the appropriate form of the verb "to be" and the past participle of the main verb.

NOTE: Consult with your professor about using the passive voice before submitting your research paper. Some strongly discourage its use!

Active and Passive Voice. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Diefenbach, Paul. Future of Digital Media Syllabus. Drexel University; Passive Voice. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.  

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