Re: Use of the First Person

Subject: Re: Use of the First Person
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 14:31:14 +0800

Tim Altom wrote:
> Welcome to the turgid, turbid, pompous world of academic writing, Dan.

You left out 'torpid'.

There's an argument that 'we' should be eschewed in scientific papers
because the results of an experiment should not be influenced in the
slightest by who did what. The paper reports the results of an experiment;
these actions were performed under these conditions and these results
were obtained.

The purpose of publishing (in theory) is to say "we did these experi-
ments and these are our conclusions". The paper gives enough detail so
that others may challenge the authors' conclusions or assumptions, or
repeat the experiments and verify the results.

'We' is relevant when the authors state their conclusions: "We interpret
these results to mean that the moon is made of green cheese." _Whose_
conclusions these are matters. 'We' is not relevant when actions are
described: "Bob and Carol took the photos and Ted and Alice picked them
from the lab, then we all measured the colour distribution." If the
procedure was done correctly it shouldn't matter who did it.

I don't think this is a *strong* argument. But that's what they say.

Another weak argument is the one that says "precision is paramount and
the readers are experts and they're prepared to make the effort."

I *can* read dull, long-winded writing, but it's not an efficient path
to understanding. I *can* run uphill in skis, but it's not an efficient
means of transportation.

Stuart 'these truths are held to be self-evident' Burnfield
Functional Software Pty Ltd
mailto:slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au

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