Compared to many disciplines, writing in civil engineering contains frequent use of passive voice. However, students use passives even more frequently than practitioners do. Practitioners use more active voice verbs and first person pronouns. They make their responsibility for their work clear with phrases such as we observed..., the study team conducted..., and we recommend.... Students' writing often leaves the responsibility for an action vague by using passives such as it was observed... and it is recommended.... Students are typically told to use passive voice in lab reports, where stating who performed the work is unnecessary and detracts from the content. But for engineering practice, being explicit about responsibility is important for clarity of communication and for making sure one firm isn't held responsible for another firm's work.
Frequency of passives and first person pronouns in
reports and tech memos by students and practitioners