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Suppose you are writing an academic paper. When referring to an author of a paper whose gender is unknown, what pronoun should you use? "He", "she", "he/she", "they", etc? Maybe you think this is a trivial question if you refer to the author only a few times. But what if you have to refer to the author 10 times or more?

Remark(Nov. 14, 2015) My question is different from the question with respect to the following points.

1) You are writing an academic paper.

2) You have to refer to the author of a paper whose gender is unknown 10 times or more.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, TimLymington, tchrist, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Nathaniel Nov 19 '15 at 2:12

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    I don't think the question is trivial. I confess I have gone to considerable lengths to find out if the author is male or female, just so I could use the proper specific pronoun. Many here will favor singular "they." See this well-established question. – Brian Donovan Nov 10 '15 at 21:49
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    If the paper is referenced so many times, it must be important to the academic paper that is referencing it. That being said, I would go the extra mile to find the gender of the writer if humanly possible. – Kristina Lopez Nov 10 '15 at 21:52
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    Since an academic paper will generally be written in the first person plural, referring to its author in the third person plural actually makes some sort of grammatical sense. – Peter Shor Nov 10 '15 at 22:45
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    Because I'd want to give the impression to my audience that I researched my topic, including enough research on the author of the frequently referenced paper to know if that author is a man or woman. – Kristina Lopez Nov 11 '15 at 1:36
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    Sure. That paper didn't write itself. It was written by a human being with a name and an identity. – Kristina Lopez Nov 11 '15 at 2:57
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In cases where you cannot be clear, or certain, skip the pronoun and go with noun. Like The author or use the person's last name; any style guide(s) in use at the institution you are writing for should indicate the preferred method, I would think.

  • Like The author or use the person's last name" Wouldn't it be awkward to refer to the author like that way many times? For example: >By early 1830, Lobachevsky was testing Lobachevsky's "imaginary geometry" as a possible model for the real world. If the universe is non-euclidean in Lobachevsky's sense, then Lobachevsky showed that our solar system must be extremely small, in terms of this natural unit of distance. – ivanhoescott Nov 10 '15 at 23:58
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    Yes, but it could be rewritten to reduce the need. As in: >By early 1830, Lobachevsky was testing an "imaginary geometry" as a possible model for the real world. If the universe is non-euclidean in Lobachevsky's sense, then it has been shown that our solar system must be extremely small, in terms of this natural unit of distance. – Seeds Nov 12 '15 at 17:37
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    "Lobachevsky was testing an "imaginary geometry" as a possible model for the real world." This is not a correct rewrite. Lobachevsky's "imaginary geometry" and an "imaginary geometry" have different meanings. In any case, I don't think your proposal for using noun instead of the pronoun works in general. – ivanhoescott Nov 12 '15 at 20:55
  • Perhaps we were taught differently then, I was taught that if you cannot use a noun in place of a pronoun, you are doing it wrong; because the pronoun is the thing that is replacing a noun, so you can always put the noun back, to clarify. I would also have to disagree on the rewrite, since it is implicit that the imaginary geometry used by Lobachevsky would become know later as Lobachevsky's. Would it not? Surely it was not known by that name when the author first used it. :) – Seeds Nov 12 '15 at 22:15
  • @Seeds there are two related problems in cases like this: jargon and items (theorems, constants, methods etc.) named after their creators/popularisers/discoverers. Grammatically you may be able to swap the noun and pronoun, but the sense may be changed. Perhaps they'd been testing someone else's imaginary geometry a few years earlier and had moved on to test their own. – Chris H Nov 13 '15 at 20:36
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Personally I'd use they as a singular pronoun. If you've got to write it several times, he/she will just disrupt the flow.

See also http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/06/he-or-she-versus-they/

  • 1
    Not very sound advice if you're supposed to be using a style guide with a different recommendation. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 '15 at 22:36
  • The linked article quotes G.B. Shaw's "It's enough to drive anyone out of their senses." Note that "anyone" is an indefinite person, hence it is semantically plural. – ivanhoescott Nov 11 '15 at 0:19
  • @ivanhoescott Although I'm sure that someone will come along and tell me otherwise, anyone has never been semantically plural to me - it refers to any one person out of a specific group. If I ask does anyone want to come with me? I'm asking whether one person wants to come with me; if any others decide to come too, they're just icing on the cake. If I wanted to ask the whole group to come, I would say do you guys want to come with me? – Anonym Nov 13 '15 at 17:24
  • @Anonym I think the sentence "Everyone knows each other" is commonly used. However, the phrase "each other" requires a plural subject. Hence "everyone" in this sentence is semantically plural. Likewise "anyone" in the aforementioned sentence is semantically plural, I think. – ivanhoescott Nov 13 '15 at 17:37
  • @EdwinAshworth I think it's fair to work on the assumption that the lack of a relevant style guide leads to the question, and answer on that basis. I haven't come across a journal style guide that goes into that much detail (or refers the author to a more in-depth guide) so this is certainly a plausible situation. – Chris H Nov 13 '15 at 20:42

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