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Personal or impersonal style?

Should you use a personal or impersonal style? Until quite recently, text books on scientific writing advised students to use an impersonal style of writing rather than a personal style.

An impersonal style uses:

  • the passive voice
  • the third person rather than the first person ( it rather than I or we)
  • things rather than people as subjects of sentences.

However, overuse of the passive voice may mean that your writing is less precise, and it may lead to writing which is more difficult to read because it is less natural than the active voice.

Times are changing, and in some disciplines and sub-disciplines of Science it is now quite acceptable to use the active voice, personal pronouns such as I and we, and to use people as subjects of sentences.

Examples of active and passive sentences

Active: I observed the angle to be…

Passive: The angle was observed to be…

Active: The authors suggest…

Passive: It is suggested…

Active: We used a standard graphical representation to…

Passive: A standard graphical representation was used to…

Examples of the first and third person pronouns

First person: I found…

Third person: It was found that…

First person: I assumed that…

Third person: It was assumed that…

Examples of persons or things as subjects

Person as subject: I noticed…

Thing as subject: Analysis of the raw data indicated…

Person as subject: In this report I show…

Thing as subject: This report presents…

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