Oct 4, 2010
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Im currently writing my personal statement and find myself going back and forth between active and passive voice. One paragraph will be active voice then the next paragraph (talking about past experiences) is in passive voice. 3rd paragraph is active voice, etc..

just wondering if that is ok or if I should try to keep everything one voice?
 
May 12, 2012
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You're not mixing up passive voice with past tense, right? You should always try to use active voice but it is OK to have some passive voice, it'd be hard not to.
 
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Mar 29, 2011
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You're not mixing up passive voice with past tense, right? You should always try to use active voice but it is OK to have some passive voice, it'd be hard not to.

I know this is dumb. But can someone provide a concrete example of the difference. I think someone told me once that I use a passive voice too much.. so my PS is an attempt to use active voice but it doesn't feel as natural to me at times.
 
Jun 10, 2011
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Passive: My Orgo professor gave me an A
Active: I earned an A in my organic chemistry course.
 

mirimonster

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Passive: My Orgo professor gave me an A
Active: I earned an A in my organic chemistry course.
Actually, those are technically both active voice, although the student is not the active mover in the first sentence, so it's still not as strong. Passive: I was given an A in organic chemistry.

It's easy to fall into passive voice because it's required in scientific writing - especially lab reports. "the beaker was heated" (passive) instead of "I heated the beaker". Just make sure that you have a definitive subject creating the action in every sentence. In the case of heating the beaker, what/who heated it?
 
May 12, 2012
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Passive: My Orgo professor gave me an A
Active: I earned an A in my organic chemistry course.
Actually, these are both active.

It's not about changing the meaning of the words, it's the structure of the sentence. You want the subject to be doing the verb.
 
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tn4596

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my professor told me to avoid using to be verb. that would reduce passive voice in your essays
 
Jun 10, 2011
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Yeah, realized it after I posted, then realized I'm on my two week break before summer classes start up and I was definitely not in the right academic mindset to be giving advice like this ;) Carry on, I'l; be over here browsing Facebook.
 

SpacemanSpifff

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Passive voice in a personal statement can be counterproductive, and I tried to avoid it whenever possible. In general your PS is showcasing your abilities and your motivations, so you should be present in all aspects of the piece. Using passive voice creates a lack of agency and may lead the reader to assign responsibility to an unidentified party (consciously or not), rather than the writer.
Take the following simple sentence: "In my lab, students were taught to be detail-oriented and organized." Using the passive voice makes it slightly unclear about the writer's role in the lab, and if she/he had something to do with teaching the student. Substituting a strong, active verb that lends agency to the writer (i.e. "I demonstrated the importance of a detail-oriented approach in lab...") would create a stronger sentence.
 
Mar 29, 2011
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Passive voice in a personal statement can be counterproductive, and I tried to avoid it whenever possible. In general your PS is showcasing your abilities and your motivations, so you should be present in all aspects of the piece. Using passive voice creates a lack of agency and may lead the reader to assign responsibility to an unidentified party (consciously or not), rather than the writer.
Take the following simple sentence: "In my lab, students were taught to be detail-oriented and organized." Using the passive voice makes it slightly unclear about the writer's role in the lab, and if she/he had something to do with teaching the student. Substituting a strong, active verb that lends agency to the writer (i.e. "I demonstrated the importance of a detail-oriented approach in lab...") would create a stronger sentence.
Ok so using "I" a lot more where it fits is better? I guess I don't like to use "I this, I that" because to me it sounds like how second graders write. "I want to be a doctor because XYZ" for instance - is that good?

What about this - "in my XYZ class, we were assigned to XYZ" (which is in my PS btw) - should I use we or I - because I'm talking about my class and something we had to together so it doesn't seem right to just say I, because it seems like I was the only one doing said thing.

Thanks for everyone's help!
 

SpacemanSpifff

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1. Ok so using "I" a lot more where it fits is better? I guess I don't like to use "I this, I that" because to me it sounds like how second graders write. "I want to be a doctor because XYZ" for instance - is that good?

2. What about this - "in my XYZ class, we were assigned to XYZ" (which is in my PS btw) - should I use we or I - because I'm talking about my class and something we had to together so it doesn't seem right to just say I, because it seems like I was the only one doing said thing.
1. I understand the concern about coming off as simplistic. Persistent repetition of any word, especially "I", will make the statement seem stale at best (and worse slightly arrogant). Try to find a balance between using "I" and other methods. Varying sentence structure will help bring attention away from repetitive "I" use, but not entirely. This is another reason why the PS is so difficult for many applicants (myself included)!

2. Go with what you're comfortable with. This phrase uses the passive voice, which again I try to avoid, but sometimes it serves a purpose.
 
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May 24, 2012
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I've been having trouble with this in the EC section when talking about on-going activities. I would like to say "I have learned about....", "I have served as..". But that is passive voice right? Any ideas on how to reword that?
 

mirimonster

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Ok so using "I" a lot more where it fits is better? I guess I don't like to use "I this, I that" because to me it sounds like how second graders write. "I want to be a doctor because XYZ" for instance - is that good?

What about this - "in my XYZ class, we were assigned to XYZ" (which is in my PS btw) - should I use we or I - because I'm talking about my class and something we had to together so it doesn't seem right to just say I, because it seems like I was the only one doing said thing.
The trick is to not always talk about yourself. You should not be the subject of every sentence, because it sounds simplistic, repetitive and a bit egotistical. You can use I, just not every sentence.

For this case:

The focus of XYZ course was to do XYZ. My classmates and I did.... The experiment was successful/not successful.

For a clinical experience: "For the past ___ years, I have been working at the XYZ clinic. One experience that struck me was... (Tell the story, no sentence of which starts with "I") This experience taught me that....

The difference between passive/active is NOT who is the subject, which I think is the confusion here. A sentence can be active even if you are not the subject. "The experience taught me..." is active voice. Experience is the subject, taught is the verb.
The difference is whether there is a subject at all. "I was taught" is passive. I is not the subject, it is the object that is being taught. Who is teaching me? I have no idea, there is no subject. If you're in doubt, just ask yourself who is doing the action? With teaching, it's "who is teaching?" If the answer isn't in the sentence, it's passive voice.
 

mirimonster

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I've been having trouble with this in the EC section when talking about on-going activities. I would like to say "I have learned about....", "I have served as..". But that is passive voice right? Any ideas on how to reword that?
Both active, specifically present perfect tense. You are the subject of both of these sentences. It's equivalent to saying "I learned about..." in which "I" is the subject, "learned is the verb" I understand the confusion. Have is ok, it's the conjugations of to be that you have to be careful with. Just focus on your subject, verb, object. Subject: who is creating the action? Verb: what is the action? Object: who/what is the verb affecting?

Passive: No subject, or subject at the end. Structure is Object was verbed (by subject - sometimes included)
Active: Normal sentence structure, person/thing creating action first. Subject verbed object.