Formal vs. informal scientific writing

Subject: Formal vs. informal scientific writing
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 1995 14:46:39 LCL

As is the case for many writers and editors in science, I'm required
to follow some of the main bugaboos of science writing, such as:

- the love of passive voice: "A study was conducted..." (instead of
"Fred studied" or "I studied"
- anonymous voice: "ABC Corp. studied..." (instead of "Fred studied"
or "I studied")
- formal voice: "Do not do this..." (instead of "Don't do this")

Passive voice, I slay where I can; anonymous voice I have to live
with; formal voice I'm questioning. So here's the question:

We're publishing in a technology-transfer context; that is, scientists
writing for nonscientists who will implement the results of our
studies in their daily work. Other than tradition, is there any
justification for "formal writing", or do I have some solid ammunition
to start moving away from anonymous voice, using contractions, and so
on? I'm hoping to get some hard data on this from our readers when we
begin an audience analysis, but in the meantime, I'd like to get
feedback from anyone who has tried a similar approach to "talking like
they do".

--Geoff Hart #8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of
our reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.


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