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Background

I am writing a scientific article that describes a computer program. Although it is common in the field to use a passive voice, it is also acceptable, and my preference, to diversify the text with an active voice.

That said, the focus of my paper is a computer program, and I am describing what it does. I am having a difficult time determining when it is appropriate to say that the program does something versus when I (or we) did something.

Example

Call the program 'FOO' (all caps since it is an acronym, though presumably, since I am introducing FOO in this paper, I could change this to only have a capital first letter)

FOO uses addition to determine Y,

versus

we use addition to determine Y,

or

Y is determined by addition

I think that giving agency to Foo makes it easier to write, but then my text becomes 'FOO does this ... FOO does that'; making the name 'FOO', which is really incidental, dominate the page when looked at as a whole. In addition, it can feel awkward to writing about a computer program as a protagonist (however, this is my first attempt to describe such a program).

Question: What is the best way to write about software in an active voice?

In my field, the passive voice is dominant so I am having difficulty finding good examples of the use of an active voice.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

FOO uses addition to determine Y

If you wish to use active voice, this is the best construction. "We" and other first-person pronouns are generally discouraged in academic papers.

I think that giving agency to Foo makes it easier to write, but then my text becomes 'FOO does this ... FOO does that' and the page starts to look awkward. Perhaps it is only because I am not used to writing about a computer program as a protagonist.

You can add variety by using the pronoun "it", as well as also using the passive voice. There's no problem using both voices in one paper.

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2  
although the use of We and other first person pronouns is traditionally discouraged, in practice they are becoming more widely used –  1'' Jan 4 '11 at 1:18
2  
+1. I have seen many software manuals in which the name of the program was said to do things in the active voice. As Wai says, you can use pronouns to streamline the text. You are afraid the program is mentioned too often in a paper that has it as its subject? But that would be only natural! If the program dominates the content of the paper, it is only logical and clear that it should dominate its form too. –  Cerberus Jan 4 '11 at 1:24

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