I argued with my I.T. teacher who is also our research adviser because as far as my knowledge is concerned I insisted that using they, them and their is acceptable based on APA style. She prohibited us from using she and he, which is understandable, but they, their and them? I don't understand that.

So the words left for us to use is us and students who are the subject of the research and these words eventually become so redundant in our research paper. I think this is very stupid.

Is she correct?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Community Jul 7 '16 at 13:46

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Oct 2 '16 at 17:54

Short Answer is: Your adviser is correct.

In any concise written context, i.e. whose purpose is to deliver factual information as opposed to writing a novel or a poem, the usage of these words should be avoided unless you mean specific group of people, in research papers this is probably never the case because you do not usually discuss someone you discuss his/her work/ideas, unless your research is about a group of people like the Mayans for example.

As an example:

The paper titled Big Bang published by John Doe, Jane Doe, and Max shed light on this, they discussed the Big, but failed to mention the Bang.


The paper titled Big Bang published by John Doe, Jane Doe, and Max shed light on this, the paper discusses the Big, but fails to mention the Bang.

The rule of thumb not to use "they" will immediately deter you from using the first phrasing and point you to use the second, and while this may be an over-the-top example it shows the idea of why you should not use "they".

  • This answer is pure opinion and does not give any sources to back it up. The standards of scientific writing in the early 20th century prohibited we, I, us and me, but not he and she. However, this led to such unreadable prose that most fields currently have dropped these prohibitions. Do you actually have any current references to scientific journals that discourage authors from using we and I? – Peter Shor Jul 7 '16 at 13:55
  • Did I mention We and/or I anywhere? – Mystic Odin Jul 7 '16 at 13:57
  • It's still pure opinion. And it seems to me that the OP was talking about the controversial gender-neutral singular they, and not the standard plural they, which has never has been discouraged in scientific writing. – Peter Shor Jul 7 '16 at 13:59
  • Whether it's the gender-neutral singular they, the standard plural they, or even he or she does not make a difference in the case I'm describing, do you agree? – Mystic Odin Jul 7 '16 at 14:27
  • I don't agree. There has never been a prohibition on using the standard plural they in research papers. This is entirely your own personal opinion. Do you have any sources that agree with what you are saying? – Peter Shor Jul 7 '16 at 15:38

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