Editing for Passive Voice by Ross Martinek
Use the table below to find passive voice in your work. If you do this exercise for ten chapters, you will find yourself spotting and eliminating passive voice as you write. The instructions are for MS Word 2011 (2010 on Windows, IIRC), but should be similar in earlier versions. I use this and it works. I wrote scientific works for over forty years, where passive voice is nearly required, rather than tolerated.
The definition of passive voice (from grammardivas.com, an excellent grammar reference site):
“A passive voice sentence will always have:
1. a form of “to be” + past participle for the verb (was called, will be thrown)
2. subject of the sentence receives action rather than doing the action
3. doer of action (if stated) is in a prepositional phrase beginning with by (or to).”
Memorizing this will help, but the instructions below work better.
Target words for passive voice
had/have/was/ were/been/be/by/to /could/would/should/
Turn off Track Changes
Open Advanced Find
Type target word (one at a time) in search box
Select “Find whole words”
Select “Highlight all items”
Click Title Bar of document.
Click highlight color (something you can read through)
Repeat as desired.
Turn on Track Changes
Edit and review
Turn off Track Changes
Advanced Find: Clear find box and any other search criteria check boxes
Select Highlight under the Format drop down
Select Highlight all items
Click Title Bar of Document
Select None in the highlight color dropdown menu.
*The MS Word grammar checker is essentially useless except for three things: passive voice, cliché, and colloquialisms. After you think you’ve found all the passive voice in your document, try the following.
Open Word Preferences.
Click on Spelling and Grammar
In the Grammar section, clear all check boxes except “Show readability statistics.”
In the Grammar section, click on the pull down for Writing style and select “Custom.”
Click the “Settings…” button next to that pull down.
Clear all check boxes except “Passive sentences,” “Clichés,” “Colloquialisms,” and “Sentence length.”
Click the “Okay” button to close the dialog.
NOTE: If you have previously checked either grammar or spelling, you must click the “Recheck Document” button or Word will ignore everything you want it to find! You must do this every time you want to check the document for these things.
Click the “Okay” button to close the preferences window.
Turn on “Track changes” and have at it.
Remember that not all passive sentences are bad. Sometimes they are necessary. More often, they are not.