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I am a math major and I am trying to improve my writing skills, mostly for proofs but also for the overall betterment of my career. A lot of times in Math, the author will use the word "we" when describing something that he/she is doing. I am picked this up from reading a lot of math text. This specific question is related to the beginning of a statement. I normally use the phrase, "We begin with". To me, this seems poorly written. Does anyone have some suggestions of professional alternatives? Also if anyone has some better tags please don't hesitate to add them as this is my first time in this stack exchange environment.

The link posted was not a duplicate question.

What I ended up doing: In this context I am making a claim, so I feel it is better to use this phrase: "To commence, I make the claim that..." Since I am the author and I making the claim, I feel it is better to not include the reader in my claim. Thoughts?

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, sumelic, user140086, Nathaniel, JEL Jan 22 '16 at 9:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Possible duplicate of User tutorial: to be written in first or second person? But ~I think it's off topic writing/style advice anyway. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '16 at 17:00
  • Well, when I did maths, which was a long time ago - the opening sentence of a proof went something like Let the number of Eskimos in the igloo be x and the number of fishing rods be y Does that help? – WS2 Jan 20 '16 at 17:08
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    How is it off topic? This is a public forum for English language and usage. Please do not post nonconstructive comments. – Jack Jan 20 '16 at 17:20
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    Some people avoid using "I" and "me" in formal writing because they feel that putting themselves in the picture in that way is bad form. It's a voice/style convention that many writers feel they must abide by, though it strikes me as being highly artificial; still, if you are writing in a milieu where the vast majority of other writers accept this convention, I advise you not to underestimate its power to predispose audiences against someone who flouts it on merely rational grounds (such as those you put forward in your last paragraph). – Sven Yargs Jan 20 '16 at 17:41
  • Make the claim. Leave yourself and everybody else out of it. – JEL Jan 20 '16 at 19:30
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Writers of mathematics (and academics generally) often use 'we' and 'us' (for example, "Let us turn to...").

I suspect this is because it can draw the narrator and the reader together, making it seem like the reader is part of the 'we' which has uncovered, or is doing, the proof or argument. This is pedagogically helpful, especially in mathematics.

If you don't like it, just excise it. Start with "Let n be a number..."

  • In the specific example I am doing, there is no need to define anything so we don't need to begin with "let so and so...". Thanks for the suggestion and comment though. – Jack Jan 20 '16 at 17:18
  • @Tim, Then instead of saying "We begin with", just begin. We can give you no alternatives without more information about what you're doing. – GoldenGremlin Jan 20 '16 at 17:20
  • That is what I ended up doing. I was just wondering if there was a clean alternative. – Jack Jan 20 '16 at 17:22
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    The trouble with excising 'we' is that you end up doing everything in the passive voice ( "the variance was calculated", "the results were studied") which almost always ends up being worse stylistically than using "we". – DJClayworth Jan 20 '16 at 17:58
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    @Tim, if your intent is for the reader to follow along with your instructions, you and the reader are doing it together, so "we" is entirely appropriate. – Mike Harris Jan 20 '16 at 22:04

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