Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As I'm not a native speaker and just finishing my dissertation in Computer Science, I wonder what style I should be using. In German (my native tongue) most dissertations, school-books and scientific writing use third person or passive voice to sound 'objective'. I know that passive voice in English should be avoided. In most of my publications I use "we" (e.g. "we can improve the recognition rate by ...").

For the dissertation, as it is my work, should I prefer "I" over "we"? I don't like the idea too much, as it sounds pretentious to me. Currently, I want use first person singular for the contributions section and first person plural for the rest. I try to avoid passive as often as possible. Is this acceptable?

share|improve this question
It might be worth reflecting a bit more on the premise that you "should" avoid the passive. –  Neil Coffey Feb 20 '11 at 4:42
"We can improve the recognition rate..." could be phrased actively with "Our novel algorithm based on this cool heuristic improves the recognition rate." –  Fuhrmanator Feb 27 '13 at 15:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

You should probably consult a faculty member, or look at papers in your own field, in order to decide anything definitively. These kinds of conventions can vary within fields and subfields, so you should see what your peers do.

In my field, using I in a paper is something to be avoided whenever possible, by using the passive voice, the pronoun one, or by restructuring the sentence so that the author doesn't need to be referenced. We is more common than I, although it is normally restricted to papers with more than one author.

You are right that German generally favors passive voice much more than in English. However, the main place where I have found that passive voice is more accepted in English is in formal academic writing.

share|improve this answer

Many English speakers, especially in North America, do not prefer using the passive style. I do not why? In my language, I am a native speaker of Arabic, we use less passives. Never the less, whether in English or Arabic or any other language, I do not think we should be prespective about this structure. Just let's use when we feel it is appropriate. I am a student of Engineering and I am writing my project soon. I sked many graduates students about the use of passive, they said it is a must in our field.

share|improve this answer

One uses the word "one" to avoid both the first person and passive voice.

One improves the recognition rate by…

It isn't clear to me whether it is your aim to avoid to the first person or to use it, but in an unpretentious way.

If the former, you can use "the researcher." For the latter, I think "we" sounds better, but you might do well to look at some similar dissertations in your field and follow what you find in those. You could also ask the advice of your dissertation sponsor/adviser.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.