In Swedish there is a word, "undertecknad", which would refer the author of a piece of text. It is an expression used in formal context when you try to objectify yourself (and avoid saying "I") out of the text you are writing.

I know that you can say, yours truly, or even the French "moi" at times, in informal context. But, say you are writing a report and using the passive voice throughout. If I want to refer to my supervisors, who are not co-authoring the report with me, how can I do that?

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    The author(s) can always refer to themselves as "the author(s)". This is done in scientific publications where the author(s) wish to avoid using the word "we". (Although it's usually only used to say something is the authors' opinion and similar purposes.) – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 14:47
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    "We" is usually used to refer to "any relevant group of people I'm thinking of in this context at this time." Short of that, use some neutral third-person noun that encompasses the group you mean. That can be "the authors" (though not in your case), "the board", "management", or what have you. – Robusto Mar 27 '15 at 14:49
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    In English-speaking academia, the typical construction is "The authors...", and then when you want to refer to a specific author for whatever reason "One of us (Bron)...". – Dan Bron Mar 27 '15 at 14:51
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    @Dan: or "One of the authors (Shor)", if you want to avoid we/us. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 14:52
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    "you are writing a report and using the passive voice throughout." In English, at least, it's considered very bad style to use passive voice at all frequently in a technical report / piece of documentation. It's one of the things that tends to be mentioned in tech writing classes. While there are times when the passive voice is the best way to express something, it usually makes the sentence more difficult to understand. – Parthian Shot Mar 28 '15 at 1:46

The comments that Peter Shor and Dan Bron posted beneath the original question lay out the all-purpose option of replacing "I" or "we" with "the author" or "the authors." The most common place to encounter this tactic in action is in the acknowledgments section of a report or other text, where relying on passive voice would sound ludicrous, as in this example:

Colleagues at the Emmett Kelly Institute are thanked for their contributions to this report. The unflagging support of spouses and children is also gratefully acknowledged.

In such cases, assuming that first-person pronouns are thoroughly banned, the best you can do is to shift to active voice and the persona of "the authors":

The authors wish to thank their colleagues at the Emmett Kelly Institute for their contributions to this report. They also gratefully acknowledge the unflagging support provided by their spouses and children.

In the main text, authors tend to resort less often to "the author" or "the authors" as a dodge for "I" or "we"—but other evasions may come to hand, such as "the research team," "[institution name]," or even "the data" (as in "the data suggest that ..." rather than "We infer from the data that ...").

Of course, passive voice is itself the dodge par excellence for framing personal actions, interpretations, and conclusions as if they were arose spontaneously or from an unknown source. That's how you get paragraphs like this one from AES Ocean Express, LLC, "Ocean Express Pipeline Project: Environmental Impact Statement" (June 2003): Existing Environment

A total of 3 unidentified magnetic anomalies and 35 side scan sonar targets were recorded in Federal Waters. All of the magnetic anomalies were interpreted as debris and were not recommended for avoidance by Ocean Express. Most acoustic targets also were interpreted as debris. Among the four exceptions, one acoustic target was considered a possible section of cable, and three were interpreted as shipwrecks (Sonar Targets 41, 42, and 43). Of the three possible shipwrecks located in the side scan survey area, no determination has been made as to their eligibility for listing on the NRHP.

Readers of this paragraph don't know (1) who recorded the magnetic anomalies and side scan sonar targets, (2) who interpreted the magnetic anomalies as being debris, (3) who decided not to recommend them for avoidance by Ocean Express (unless Ocean Express made that determination, in which case a less ambiguous wording for the relevant phrase would be "and were not recommended by Ocean Express for avoidance"), (4) who interpreted most of the acoustic targets as debris, (5) who considered one acoustic target a possible section of cable, (6) who interpreted three other acoustic targets as shipwrecks, and (7) who has declined to make a determination on the possible shipwrecks' eligibility for listing on the NRHP. That's quite a record of ambiguity—even if the same people or entity turns out to have been responsible for all seven listed actions.

Supposing that one operational team within AES Ocean Express, LLC, was responsible for all of the activities cast in passive voice in the quoted paragraph—and supposing, even more fancifully, that the report's authors wanted to be clear about who did what—it might have recast the paragraph as follows:

AES Ocean Express's oceanic research team recorded a total of 3 unidentified magnetic anomalies and 35 side scan sonar targets in Federal Waters. The team interpreted all of the magnetic anomalies as debris and decided not to recommend any of them for avoidance by Ocean Express. It also interpreted 31 of the acoustic targets as debris. In assessing the four exceptions, the team interpreted one acoustic target to be a possible section of cable and three (Sonar Targets 41, 42, and 43) to be shipwrecks. The team has not determined whether the three possible shipwrecks located in the side scan survey area are eligible for listing on the NRHP.

The revised paragraph goes from seven passive constructions to none, the number of first-person pronouns remains at zero, and the wording identifies the entity hypothetically responsible for each action throughout. Obviously, we would need to alter the wording in order to correctly attribute any actions that entities other than AES Ocean Express's oceanic research team performed—but that part of the task shouldn't be hard.

As for the OP's specific question, "If I want to refer to my supervisors, who are not co-authoring the report with me, how can I do that?" the answer depends on how stiff you are willing to be. It is certainly possible to refer to "the author's supervisors," "the author's advisors," "senior colleagues of the author," or some other formulation (as appropriate), but it might sound better if you identified each person by name and title, rather than by hierarchical relationship to you. That is:

Siegfried Roy, professor and chair of the Large Cat department at the Catamount Institute

rather than

Siegfried Roy, the author's supervisor at the Catamount Institute

Without more context, it is impossible to say what contortions may be necessary to avoid using first-person pronouns and still get your intended meaning across—but it is very likely that you will have to sacrifice some degree of naturalness in your voice in order to achieve a complete ban on such pronoun usage.


Well, there is this, but it's 19C-ish:

The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest ... - Volume 31 Great Britain. Parliament - 1818

In witness whereof we, the undersigned, being furnished with the full powers of their Imperial and British Majesties, have in their names signed the present act and have thereto set the seal of our arms.

And there's of course the slang-ish

MY NABS - myself

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    This only makes sense when the authors have literally signed under the text, which is typically reserved for legal documents. – Dan Bron Mar 27 '15 at 18:04
  • @Dan Bron: Yes, but I've just discovered it's the translation for "undertecknad " [here]en.bab.la/dictionary/swedish-english/undertecknad#st – Marius Hancu Mar 27 '15 at 18:10
  • @Dan Bron: added MY NABS, myself – Marius Hancu Mar 27 '15 at 18:31
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    +1 for "MY NABS" (I've never heard of it, I'm an American, but it's a cool phrase). – Dan Bron Mar 27 '15 at 18:32
  • In Dutch it is ondertekende . – Brandin Mar 27 '15 at 18:56

"The powers that be"


It's formal and has the meaning "supervisors" that you mentioned. Google ngram shows it as on the decline, so it might be too formal and stuffy or clunky for everyday use.

In scientific articles, I've seen "the investigators" used, so depending on what context you need, perhaps a general group noun like "the management" would be more useful.

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    The Powers that Be is certainly not appropriate to refer to yourself as the author of a report. The investigators and the management also require quite specific contexts not to be misleading. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 27 '15 at 19:31
  • Please review the entire question. The person posting is the author, but is referring to people who did not co-author and are superiors. I did assume that the request was for a reference to those other people, the supervisors, rather than to the author. – Delia Mar 27 '15 at 20:31
  • They are supervisors. That doesn't (necessarily) mean superiors or management—if it's an academic paper or report, they're more likely to be professors or colleagues. The question is asked in a somewhat misleading way, too, as undertecknad only refers to the author. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 27 '15 at 20:34
  • Ah, yes. I see that in the discussion under "undersigned." I see that it might have been better to clarify assumptions before offering an answer. – Delia Mar 27 '15 at 21:31
  • "the powers that be", while old-fashioned, is not formal English. Furthermore, it's usually used to refer to a third-person administrative body, not the speaker, as in "I wanted to use standard A4 paper, but the powers that be decided to use A2, so everyone keeps having to adjust the printer settings". I'd be very surprised to see the phrase in a formal context. – Parthian Shot Mar 28 '15 at 1:51

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