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Thread: Academic writing and I

  1. #1 Academic writing and I 
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    Has anyone else gone through their education always being taught never to refer to oneself during academic writing?

    Terms such as me, I, us or we are considered poor English. And yet they are not considered so by English professors. It seems to be some kind of bizarre convention agreed by scientists (at least in the fields i read in), one that must not be broken. If you must refer to yourself, use 'the author' and feel ashamed of yourself.

    Had an argument with a colleague on this topic; to my mind, in the correct context, the use of such terms aids, not hinders, academic writing. Does anyone else support this convention, and if so explain why it is so?


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  3. #2  
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    It is the convention in scientific writing. Even when referencing your own work personal pronouns aren't used.


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  4. #3  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Having never been taught how to write a paper (and never having written one) I can only go by what I've read and that does not seem to support the idea that personal pronouns are not used. This paper has 38 uses of "we". I just picked it at random.

    http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/bibliograph...les/mw1002.pdf
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    Forum Junior JennLonhon's Avatar
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    Well, considering it has 12 pages, it doesn't seem too much to me, tho I have to admit I haven't read it. When you say

    Terms such as me, I, us or we are considered poor English.
    it that referring simply to the way you begin your sentence or in general? Because, I kinda think it's hard to write a paper without using these terms (depending on the topic of course)
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    I think the consensus in contemporary academia is that the use of personal pronouns is not poor English, but is considered stylistically weak. It is best to avoid personal pronouns when attempting to argue something objectively because it makes your argument seem more personal than it should be. Similarly, the passive voice is grammatically correct as well, but using it weakens a paper by making it seem indirect and difficult to follow (though in science writing the passive voice is often used to keep an air of impartiality).

    At least that's what I've been told by professors in the arts, as I am working on a B.A. part-time just for the fun of it.

    Edit: Purdue University has a pretty good online style guide for academic writing.

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/2/
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  7. #6  
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    I was reading a reasonably technical article when i came across 'the author' when referring to himself http://www.jfponline.com/pages.asp?id=8086

    Based on these and other data on nontorsadogenic drugs, the likely prognostic significance of the placebo corrected mean peak effects on QTc interval, computed by the author, is shown in Table 3.
    and

    In order to ascertain this, the author solicited information on the experience of a major multinational pharmaceutical company.
    I think this suffers stylistically for not using myself in the former or I in the latter.

    I understand that there are many circumstances in which the use of personal pronouns is inappropriate, and when learning academic writing is best avoided. But it strikes me that this convention is born from the same thinking which states a sentence cannot start with but or and. Once a helpful rule in structuring writing has become a hindrance.
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  8. #7  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    It's a convention. That ought to be the end of the story. Conventions simplify writing because they remove the need for decisions over trivia. Conventions, like fashion, also change, just not as fast. Personal pronouns are increasingly used in academic papers. This writer has encountered them many times.
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  9. #8  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    I think it is probably likely that the over-emphasis on avoiding personal pronouns is a result of the fact that it is easier to avoid them altogether than to risk over-using them.
    "I almost went to bed
    without remembering
    the four white violets
    I put in the button-hole
    of your green sweater

    and how i kissed you then
    and you kissed me
    shy as though I'd
    never been your lover "
    - Leonard Cohen
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  10. #9  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    The use of "I" seems self-aggrandizing, whereas "we" and "our" seem OK.
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  11. #10  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_feel_tiredsleepy
    I think the consensus in contemporary academia is that the use of personal pronouns is not poor English, but is considered stylistically weak. It is best to avoid personal pronouns when attempting to argue something objectively because it makes your argument seem more personal than it should be. Similarly, the passive voice is grammatically correct as well, but using it weakens a paper by making it seem indirect and difficult to follow (though in science writing the passive voice is often used to keep an air of impartiality).

    At least that's what I've been told by professors in the arts, as I am working on a B.A. part-time just for the fun of it.
    This aligns with how it was explained to me. The work should be impersonal and objective.

    Further, I think use of this convention also makes it much easier for those who may be seeking to replicate the study, or validate the findings at a future date. It's much easier to quickly ascertain roles and responsibilities when you call them out by name, instead of by using personal pronouns.

    Instead of saying "I then dumped the junk in the thing," you say, "The research assistant then dumped the junk in the thing," and it's much more clear when others try to replicate.
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