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Style in academic papers
Thread poster: yne

Local time: 04:22
German to English
+ ...
Aug 31, 2006

I am currently proofreading an academic paper to be submitted to a journal. My query is this: the author has used personal pronouns throughout the text, eg "we suggest that", "we conclude that..". As an English teacher, I am forever preaching that academic writing in English should not have personal pronouns, should be written in the passive etc. I have edited the text throughout accordingly. My question is- would you all do the same?


Alan Campbell  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:22
Russian to English
It depends Aug 31, 2006

I guess it would depend on what the client prefers. Do they have style guide or a contact to whom you could address your question?

I personally would leave the pronouns in tact as I don't think it would detract from the meaning. I'm an advocate of using plain English and tend to prefer active over passive, but I do realise that the passive is traditionally preferred in certain styles.

If the choice were mine, I would keep it in the active voice.

When I see authors write such things as "the author of this text believes...", the author of this post wonders to himself, why not just use the personal pronoun?icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2006-08-31 15:58]


Local time: 23:22
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Is it a translation? Aug 31, 2006

Is the document you're proofreading a translation or was it originally written in English?



Local time: 04:22
German to English
+ ...
Original Aug 31, 2006

Hi Nancy,

It is an original, but written by a non-native speaker, so I suppose in some ways you could say it is a translation!


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 21:22
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Leave as is Aug 31, 2006

It used to be an absolute "no no" to use personal pronouns but the style of academic papers is changing and in most journals it is now quite acceptable. My guess is that the authors prefer this more informal and personal style. Unless, the journal guidelines say differently, I would leave it as is. Personally, I would be quite upset if an editor changed my writing to that extent.


Sonia Dorais
Local time: 23:22
French to English
+ ...
it depends on the type of academic paper Aug 31, 2006

From my experience in college (social sciences), the academic papers I wrote for psychology, anthropology etc. were based on other people's research (academic articles/periodicals/academic journals, etc.). In this case, we were not permitted to use personal pronouns (standard MLA and APA rules). We used terms such as: It is believed that, In this case, it appears as though, this research implies that, this article supports that (and so on).

However, in methodology, as a team, we conducted the research ourselves and so, the reseach paper we handed in did, in fact, have personal pronouns 'we concluded that'.

When in doubt, I never use personal pronouns. It is, in my opinion, a safer route.

Hope this helps.


Local time: 04:22
German to English
+ ...
I consulted the publication Aug 31, 2006

Thanks for all the useful suggestions. I had a look at the journal that the paper is for, and they do indeed print articles with personal pronouns. So, it looks like the non-native speaker was right in this case!

If anyone else has experience/ suggestions on this, I would still be interested to read them.



Trevor Butcher
Local time: 05:22
Give me the personal touch Aug 31, 2006

I would be glad to see the back of a lot of academic tradition, because I am tired of wading through a lot of wasted wordage just to work out what someone is trying to say.


I prefer simplicity and clarity over the excess verbiage you typically get if you overuse multiword constructions.


My life's too short to read quality-less words.





Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
English to German
+ ...
Leave it and talk to your customer! Aug 31, 2006

If you were asked to proofread this would mean you should correct the mistakes.

That is something else than editing.

I would - by all means - contact my client before making such substantial changes. Inform him or her and offer advice (after you have checked the journal's style guide) as to what style would be recommmendable here.

Do not change a text just because of your preferences or your personal opinions, I'd say.


Cetacea  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
English to German
+ ...
Things are slowly getting more "natural" in academic writing Aug 31, 2006

In life sciences, which is the field I mostly work in, the use of personal pronouns and the active voice has been becoming more and more widespread (at least in the papers I get to read and/or deal with) within the last few years. In my opinion, that's a very welcome development in the interest of clarity and conciseness.

In one recent article, submitted to and accepted by the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the author even used the phrase "In this study, I report...", which would probably have caused a few fits among editors not too long ago...icon_wink.gif Personally, I have never understood why someone should be forced to write things like "the author concludes" when it's him/her who's been doing the writing.


Anna Strowe
Local time: 23:22
Italian to English
The author uses personal pronouns all the time Aug 31, 2006

I just finished my second humanities degree, and in my English language coursework, I've used personal pronouns pretty much since my teachers in high school stopped telling me not to. I agree with those who say object to the circumlocution necessary to avoid the pronouns.

I've seen excellent academic writing using personal pronouns (excluding mine, of courseicon_smile.gif ) as well as dreadful academic writing which managed to exclude every single one.



df49f (X)
Local time: 05:22
view from a translator from English Aug 31, 2006

I translate of lot of academic/research articles in several fields (sociology, environmental science, biochemistry, marine biology, nutrition...) from English into French. Virtually every single one uses "we" and it's been aeons since the last time I saw an article written in the third person by the author/s speaking of themselves.
My own feeling is that taking the liberty of making such radical style changes in someone's article initially written in English by the researcher (i.e. not translated by a translator) would be truly insulting to the author... particularly since it is absolutely unnecessary. It goes well beyond the duties and prerogatives of a proofreader (or even of an editor).
It does happen that non-native speakers/writers know better than native proofreaders...icon_wink.gif


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:22
German to English
Economics and finance papers Aug 31, 2006

use personal pronouns (we, our) all the time:

"We applied the XYZ theory of present value degradation (insert reference) to the full set of values extracted from the field analysis"

"We start by examining whether the BoE's exchange rate decisions are linked to what the members of the MPC had for lunch"

"Our analysis of fat tails in right-skewed scenarios shows a correlation with kurtosis = >150"

that sort of thing.

But as with all learned papers, the submissions are generally governed by the house style of the publication concerned.


Graciela Guzman  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
English to Spanish
+ ...
Use the personal pronouns Sep 1, 2006

I coordinate the translation of one of our university researchers' abstracts and they started using personal pronouns a number of years ago.

This wouldn't have been acceptable in the past, but styles change and we have to keep up with them.


Kirsty Mason  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:22
German to English
Historically used for objectivity Sep 1, 2006

I certainly agree that you should not change the text in this case. The author has adopted this style - consciously or otherwise - and if it is acceptable in the field then I'd leave it.

As I understand it, in scientific writing (especially in the natural sciences) the passive was used historically as a device to distance the author from the proceedings and maintain the impression of objectivity when reporting research. E.g. when reporting the results of an experiment, the actions of the scientist were not supposed to be perceived as directly affecting the course of a scientific reaction (e.g. "NaCl was added", rather than "we added NaCl").

Similarly, an author might write in the 3rd person to gain a similar distancing effect such as "the authors postulate XYZ" (which is not passive, btw).

However, I agree that this seems to be dated and the situation is changing, with active formulations nowadays widely accepted or even preferred in the biosciences and medicine. I recently spoke to a university tutor in linguisitics who had received more than one academic journal submission back from editors with a note to cut down on the use of passive constructions.

The change may in part be attributed to the trend for "plain English" and also the rise in technical writing, which often calls for direct constructions to avoid any possible confusion as to who is performing the action (in instructions, user manuals, etc.).

(PS. I am in the process of writing a research paper on this very subject - if anyone has any comments or evidence of similar trends in academic writing in languages other than English, I'd be interested to hear them by e-mail!)

[Edited at 2006-09-01 15:37]

[Edited at 2006-09-01 15:46]

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