15

in our field (mathematics) it is somewhat standard to write things like

" In Chapter 4 we show that ..." "The experiments we have conducted (meaning: me, together with my collaborators)

or:

" With this equation we get ..." (meaning: You, the reader, can follow my thoughts)

So who is meant by "we"?

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    It depends on the context as your examples also show. – Allan S. Hansen Jul 8 '16 at 12:03
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    What do you mean, We, paleface? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 '16 at 12:11
  • If there is more than one author, it could refer to all of them. If there is only one author, Paul Halmos suggests that "we" refers to "the author and the reader". By the way ... I expect this question will be closed as a duplicate pretty soon. – GEdgar Jul 8 '16 at 12:42
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    I always saw us as part of the greater mathematical community. We have been studying it long enough that we are now reading new results that one of us has come up with. We mostly all have the same foundational knowledge, and we could (should?) be following along with your thesis and all of us could (should?) be actually working through the proofs that one of us is presenting in any paper. Normally, we are too lazy and just try to keep up in our heads, which is probably why we got into mathematics in the first place. – Todd Wilcox Jul 8 '16 at 13:57
26

It's a nosism (because weism is too close to bathroom humor), specifically the author's we.

Similar to the editorial "we", pluralis modestiae is the practice common in mathematical and scientific literature of referring to a generic third person by we (instead of the more common one or the informal you).

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    '[T]oo close to bathroom humor' is a good joke, but for anyone who doesn't follow the link: 'nosism' is the term because the Latin pronoun meaning 'we' is 'nos' and it's commonly used for many of the reasons mentioned in the Wikipedia article. – user174351 Jul 8 '16 at 13:01
2

In technical or scholarly writing, the universal "we" implies more than one person was or is involved with the project, experiment, or paper. There's always the Royal "we," in which monarchs always refer to themselves as a group. You can use "we" to infer that you're working with a group. However, it is always best to be forthcoming, and there's nothing negative about referring to yourself in the first person: "I."

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    First person "I" would not be received well in mathematical scholarship, even in a paper with one author. – hunter Jul 8 '16 at 15:51
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    A good answer is comprehensive and contains evidence showing why it is correct. Links to external resources are encouraged. For help writing a good answer, see How to Answer. – MetaEd Jul 8 '16 at 15:53
1

Apart from the typical explanation given in other answers, it is considered that in most cases, a thesis is a work of one or more students supervised by one (or more) academic instructor(s).

Now, even if you did your thesis without other collaborators, wouldn't it be at least arrogant and egoistic to not consider your supervisor in mentions and say "I" instead of "we"?

As in the end more than one people were involved in the thesis (even in different roles), "we" is the most logical and appropriate mentioning way.

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