To craft strong sentences, we must give our verbs power and our nouns clarity, placing both of them at the beginning of the sentence. If we really let this rule sink in, we can see that the verb dominates the central meaning of our sentences. The noun, after all, only shows a detail about how the action of the verb was performed. It identifies the source of the verb's action, so--in a very real sense--it modifies the verb. Nouns play a subordinate role to that action of the verb.
Why does most writing advice warn against passive verbs? Because the verb is the sun at the center of the solar system that is the sentence. Nouns might be Jupiter, providing a major rotational mass, but they are, nevertheless, not the center of gravity for our sentences! With a passive verb, the solar system doesn't hold together, and our sentence flies apart in as many directions as there were words in that sentence.
To observe some verbs in action, let us look at one of Jesus' parables. The Parable of the Obedient and Disobedient Son gives words to our instinct that action is more important than identification. In this parable (found in Matthew 21:28-32), Jesus tells us of two sons, both of whom were told by their father to work in the family's vineyard. One said he would, but then he didn't actually perform the work. The other said he would not, but he then repented and actually did the work. This entire story revolves around verbs: asking, promising, failing, repenting, and working. In fact, this parable is far from the only story that hinges on actions. Just as stories are driven by verbs, so is powerful text!
Because the verb is so important, we can fall into the mistake of trying to prop up weak verbs with their closest modifiers in the predicate: the adverbs. If you read some writing advice, you might think that even using an adverb once in your paper would make the enlightened reader scream and run away. To some critics, adverbs are vile, distasteful, and disgusting. They are not, in reality, quite as bad as all that. Exaggeration might make for entertaining reading, but it is not going to give us the best tools for improving our editing.
Occasional use of adverbs, in and of itself, is just fine. If they are not overused and if they add relevant detail, they can be used judiciously. For our editing process, though, adverbs give us one huge advantage: They allow us to detect potentially weak verbs very quickly. How exactly? Well, most adverbs end in -ly. Most of them also do not occur at the end of a sentence. Thus, we can include a specific step in our editing process. Performing a text search (using ctrl-f on a PC or ⌘-f on a Mac) for ly (and a space after it) can help us quickly move through the adverbs that we used and that might signal weak verbs. Check each one to see if another verb would capture the meaning of your existing verb and help you eliminate the adverb. If not, see if you can change the adverb into some other phrase to provide the information in a more powerful manner.
Example: Smith (2010) carefully studied...
This example phrase could be changed in several ways.
(1) The simplest is to cut the adverb, because studied is a strong, clear verb that already implies the exercise of careful attention.
(2) Another is to draw a key term from the kind of data analysis performed: Smith (2010) compared...
(3) Finally, we can add details about the method of study to show the care involved: Smith (2010) eliminated possible false correlations by controlling for...
Each adverb you encounter will need to be evaluated individually, but I guarantee that this strategy will help you make some quick improvements to any text. Now, why not go try it out?!