FORMAL AND INFORMAL LANGUAGE
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Can I use "I" or "we" in the text of a technical
ANSWER: It depends!
Check the discourse conventions in your own technical or scientific field! Do published authors use the first person pronouns “we” or “I”, or other forms of these words (our, my, us, me)?
|If you decide it is not appropriate to use 1st person pronouns, you can avoid these in the following ways:|
"the experiment was conducted using other raw materials"
with an impersonal "it":
“it would seem that...”, “it appears that...”, “it seems likely that...”
with an impersonal “one”:
“one might consider + -ing...”
the study itself:
“this study shows....”, “this research aims to...”
|Avoid also the use of first names
when reporting the work of other researchers:
"the model constructed by Tuomo’s group" ® "the model constructed by Kumento et al."
“contraction” is the term to describe a shortened form of words,
when words are joined together and missing letters represented by an
apostrophe (´). Contractions are rarely used in written language,
except when the author is writing in a chatty style (postcards, letters
to friends, some magazine articles, etc.) or writing down a spoken
Technical discourse avoids contractions, and prefers words written out in full.
|contracted forms||full forms|
he would or he had
language is also considered to be unscientific, and uninformative for
the reader. Technical
writers should try to choose specific
terminology where possible to replace vague terms.
|vague expressions||more appropriate in technical texts|
a thing, something
|e.g. a feature, an object, a device, a component|
|stuff||e.g. materials, resources, a substance|
|a bit||e.g. to some extent, to some degree, slightly|
|someone||e.g. a team member, a researcher, an assistant|
|some kind of||e.g. a particular|
e.g. approximately, somewhat
e.g. by an unspecified means, in a certain way
e.g. possibly, perhaps
are considered too subjective and dramatic for technical discourse, and
need to be toned down to create a sense of objective detachment to the
subject of study which is typical of scientific discourse.
Beware especially of superlative or otherwise strongly descriptive
adjectives and adverbs e.g.:
“terrible” “awfully” “marvellous” “incredibly”
Some nouns and verbs which are used in the spoken language or in chatty texts are also inappropriate in technical texts. A thesaurus can be very useful in helping you to find alternative terms. One such thesaurus online is the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus.
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© S.McAnsh 2002