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I am a german native speaker. I am currently in the finishing stages of writing a thesis. One of my advisors (English is his mother tongue) provided feedback on the language of my writing.

One point of his feedback is that I do not properly use the word this. He says that in German this often is used to relate to something general or to relate to something which occurs one or more sentences before. In English, however, this should be used to relate to the directly preceding noun.

One example would be:

We follow the vision of X because it enables to solve issues Y and Z. Hence, this will form the basis of the presented research.

Or:

In the first phase we will review available literature. This will show previous research efforts from two perspectives.

I do not want to debate whether his feedback makes sense or not. I rather would like to know, how I can deal with his feedback accordingly? That is, find a proper way to avoid using this in these cases.

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    You might consider using supplementary relative clauses: "which will thus form the basis ..." and "which will show previous research ...". Supplementary relatives can have a whole clause or a noun phrase within that clause as antecedent, which is what you want here.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 10:14
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    Your advisor is essentially asking that you link instances of freestanding this to the idea it refers to. In your second example ("In the first phase we will review available literature. This will show..."), the This presumably refers to the implied referent "our review"; if so, beginning the second sentence with "Our review" instead of with "This" makes the intended referent explicit and therefore easier to grasp. In your first example, I'm not at all sure what the referent for "this" is. If I had to guess, I would say it is "our following the vision of X"—but it is by no means clear.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 20:18

2 Answers 2

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As you should already know, your usage in both cases is perfectly fine but obviously that is not the concern here.

For the first example:

We follow the vision of X. This enables us to solve issues Y and Z and will form the basis of the presented research.

By rearranging a little bit, you end up using this again but in a manner that your advisor should deem as 'acceptable'.

Second example:

In the first phase we will review available literature to show previous research efforts from two perspectives.

Either using to or which to merge the two sentences will avoid the issue.

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In the example sentences given here, this means "the thing that I am referring to".

So, in "We follow the vision of X because it enables to solve issues Y and Z. Hence, this will form the basis of the presented research.", "this" would probably be understood to be referring to "the vision of X".

It's a shortened way of saying "Hence, the vision of X will form the basis of the presented research", and you could say that instead. Unless of course, that wasn't what "this" was referring to, in which case the sentence is misleading and confusing. Replace "this" with whatever it refers to, anyway.

In your second example, "In the first phase we will review available literature. This will show previous research efforts from two perspectives.", "this" would be understood to be referring to "the first phase".

Now, if we were to follow the approach of the first example, we would just replace "this" with "the first phase", resulting in this text:

"In the first phase we will review available literature. The first phase will show previous research efforts from two perspectives."

This feels a little awkward and unnatural - there's too much repetition, I think, although this could be a matter of opinion. It actually cries out to be replaced with "this", I think, and I don't understand quite what the objection to "this" is here. However, to avoid the repetition and avoid "this", we can look for another way to refer to the first phase. For example

"In the first phase we will review available literature. The review will show previous research efforts from two perspectives."

Here, we refer to "the first phase" as "the review" (the noun and verb form of "review" are the same): because we've said that the first phase will be a review of available literature, the phase as a whole could be called "the review".

This still feels a bit stilted, and I still think it would be better to just write "This will show..."

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