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Style Question: Use of “we” vs. “I” vs. passive voice in a dissertation
Use of “I”, “we” and the passive voice in a scientific thesis

For my thesis project, I have decided to always use "we" instead of "I". What do you think of this decision? To me, it seems more common out there to use "we". In addition, using "I" sounds somewhat ... egoistic.

However, there are cases where I want to stress that I myself, the author, has to do with something.

For instance. It would seem rather unnatural to say "It is our opinion that...", because in many cases when using “we”, it is really both the author and the reader that are doing something together. Do you think it's okay in these cases to say "It is the opinion of this author that…"?

So the question is basically twofold:

  1. Is using “we” throughout, to mean interchangeably myself, or myself and the reader both together?

  2. When I want to stress myself, can I use “this author”?

Feel free to add further thoughts.

  • 2
    This question is about writing style and would appear to fit the scope of Writers.SE
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 3, 2012 at 10:13
  • You really should ask your advisor about this.
    – J.R.
    Sep 3, 2012 at 10:25
  • Belongs on writersSE -- needs migration.
    – Kris
    Sep 3, 2012 at 12:14

2 Answers 2


This is one of those style-manual monsters rearing its ugly head. Some of the journals I edit papers for require impersonal style and disallow I/we/our in a text. Others insist on these personal pronouns. I'm always put off by "the author", "the researcher", and the royal "we" when there's only one author.

J.R. gave excellent advice. Ask your advisor. The school will undoubtedly have a style rule about this usage. I just changed one of those terms to "I" in a PhD dissertation for someone at a local medical college. Even academic writing can be made to sound like natural language, and why shouldn't it? I don't like reading typical academic prose. As tchrist pointed out in a comment the other day, a great deal of the prose that academics produce is execrable. I don't see a reason to contribute to the plethora of toxic reads.

BTW, I disagree that using "I" sounds egoistic or egotistic. It sounds to me like someone willing to take responsibility for what they've written. Some of my authors say "It is {suggested / considered / hypothesized / believed}..." when they mean "{I /We} {suggest / consider / hypothesize / believe}..." The former disavows responsibility; the latter claims it. Referring to oneself in the third person ("The author...") sounds paranormal (out-of-body experience-ish) to me.


In scientific papers, the author is commonly referred to as the author (not this author). I would not recommend this usage in a thesis however.

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