'The Report is to be presented in the “impersonal past tense” e.g.

  • Personal – I worked in the Design Department.
  • Impersonal – The work was carried out in the Design Department.'

I'm finding it hard to write in the impersonal paste tense. I keep writing things like "I did this, I was given that to do".

Is there anything I can do to make the task easier on myself?
Maybe to imagine reading it from a certain perspective or maybe there are rules to abide by when trying to write something like this in the impersonal past tense, etc.

  • Pretend you are telling the story from the view of the objects you're manipulating. More, assume they always refer to themselves in the third person and don't know anything about existence of any external forces. As if they only tell the facts never describing the reason.
    – Philoto
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:18
  • A similar question and answers to it are here: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/16812/…
    – Montag451
    Sep 22, 2016 at 10:53

4 Answers 4


In the past, I have been required to write "impersonally" by omitting all personal pronouns, etc, which was considered the proper way to write academic research papers. That sounds like the writing style that you are being asked to use.

I have found it useful to think of it as writing a series of instructions, but in the past tense. In this fashion, you are telling someone how to do what you did, without saying that you were the one who did it. Here is an example:

The task was to build a new computer program. The tools used were C++ and Visual Studio. The task was completed by creating several code files in Visual Studio and then compiling it at the command line. The code was tested thoroughly by the programmer's younger relatives at some time before dinner.

  • 1
    I have had to do this as well but it is possible to make the writing more active in some places, for example: "The programmer's younger relatives tested the code thoroughly..." Doing that may help you stay sane!
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Sep 16, 2011 at 16:13

I sympathise with you being required to write in the passive. Whoever stipulated that has no love of language.

I don't know of any tricks that apply: you're just going to have to write a lote of "was done", "were requested", "had been checked" etc.


Do the report as though you were merely observing others. Stick to the facts and keep your opinions out of it. Do the report as though are telling a story about someone else where you do not have a vested interest. Avoid talking about thoughts, feelings, emotions and try to write with out judgment.

There is no easy way to depersonalize an event that was very personal to you. The best way I find to evaluate is to put someone I care deeply about in and read it and see if it feels like I was too harsh on them. Then put someone i dislike in and see if it feels like i was to nice to them. If the answer is yes then I probably need to revise the report.


Your question seems to be about the passive: 'This was done by me' as opposed to 'I did this.' The passive is normal in scientific and some other academic writing and presumably in the organization you work for. I'm not sure I understand what the difficulty is.

  • 2
    But "This was done by me" feels personal to me still. The impersonal past tense is required.
    – Adam Lynch
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:26
  • 1
    So they're keen to make sure that absolutely nobody may take responsibility for anything? Seriously though, are you sure that that is really what they mean, as opposed to your interpretation of somebody's word 'impersonal'?
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:29
  • My "interpretation of somebody's word 'impersonal'". Am I misunderstanding the word? I thought I had to be totally removed from the report; nothing personal.
    – Adam Lynch
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:33
  • 2
    OK, perhaps that was a poor example. ‘We developed the product in the Design Department’ is active. ‘The product was developed in the Design Department’ is passive. It rather sounds to me as if those instructing you are not sure what they want. There is no such thing as an 'impersonal past tense'.
    – Barrie England
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:55
  • This was done by me is what is usually meant by 'impersonal past tense'. Perhaps it feels personal to you because you're emotionally involved with the writing.IMHO that's the style the brief wants you to adopt.
    – Autoresponder
    Sep 16, 2011 at 16:21

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