I and we

  • Thread starter Drimar
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  • #26
loseyourname
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Moonbear said:
I'd add one modification to that:
"Various theories concerning this phenomenon are..."

In other words, the sentence still needs to be completed to state what those theories are. Otherwise, it's a meaningless sentence that just wastes space in a scientific paper. Such a sentence may have a place in other forms of writing, such as English essays. I suppose when a student comes to a "Physics Forum" and asks a question about thesis writing, I'm assuming they mean scientific writing, not a thesis for an English or history degree (although, even in those cases, I'd have a hard time accepting students would not be expected to be precise in their meaning).
What she means is that the verb "are" (to be) simply means that the object of the verb exists. So the two sentences: 1) "There are various theories concerning this phenomenon" and 2) "Various theories concerning this phenomenon are" are both equivalent to sentence 3) "Various theories concerning this phenomenon exist." In all three cases, the object of the verb is "this phenomenon" so that no ellipsis waiting to be filled in with what the theories are is necessary. The statement is simply that the theories are; that is, that they exist. All three constructions are grammatically correct, which is her point. Saying that one construction is better than another is a statement of preference, but not a statement of grammatical correctness.

It does, however, seem that she is implying that preferring one over another is arbitrary, and simply up to the whim of the professor, which I don't necessarily agree with. Constructions 1 and 3 are not ambiguous, whereas construction 2 can easily be misconstrued, as evidenced by the fact that a biology professor just misconstrued it, as a sentence fragment, rather than a complete sentence, and so should probably be avoided. Yes, you do need to be clear about what it is that you are trying to say, as clear as the english language permits you to be.

Anything beyond that, and beyond actually grammatically correct construction, however, is just the whim of the professor, or more likely of accepted convention, like what Swerve was talking about regarding professional dress codes. In that case, such as distinguishing between whether we use first person singular, first person plural, or passive narrative voices, when engaging in expository writing, it is simply a matter of cultural and social expectations, not of precision or of the correct usage of language.
 
  • #27
honestrosewater
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Just to be clear, I was referring to MB's grammar teacher, not to MB herself (I know she is also a teacher). And I didn't mean for it to sound like I was chiding anyone. The rest of my post was just an observation about grammatical structures, but it's not important anyway.* I don't really have an opinion about the style of scientific papers, though I think keeping all options available and using your intelligence to choose what is most appropriate for each given situation is a good start.


* But since I can't help myself :biggrin:, I think it might not even be be that makes some there is [...] clauses seem to not be making a 'complete' (truth-value-assignable) statement. Rather, I think it might merely be there appearing without an expression telling you 'where?' (a locative). That type of there and our other expletive pronoun, it, get special attention. But exist seems to do something similar when applied to events (events would usually get, e.g., occur, and exists would usually apply to entities). Occur then seems to do the same when applied to entities. Anywho, that's a gross simplification of a green idea, but perhaps you see what I mean by the statements being incomplete, or at least less complete than usual, in some way (perhaps they are used to merely introduce concepts or name things or such -- without making any further claims about them). An event existing and an entity occurring are mismatched in such a way that the normal claim-making ability of the predicates (exist, occur) is disabled. Or something like that. Possibly.
 
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  • #28
honestrosewater
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Oh, that reminds me of something I thought was funny: http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~mims/FUNNY/scientificjargon.html [Broken].
 
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  • #29
BobG
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0TheSwerve0 said:
I agree with honestrosewater on this, a lot of rules for writing style are preferences that don't affect how scientific your research or analysis is. I think it's just been drilled into us that for things to be scientifically valid, we must not only follow the scientific method, but also school the way we talk about things. I don't mean being objective and clear, I'm referring to the way we subjectively associate certain styles of behavior or communication to be professional (and therefore valid) versus unprofessional (which can detract from the value people give your results). It's like whether or not you wear a suit to work, you can still perform your job well; but you aren't playing by the social rules and therefore your work is taken less seriously. An admission and awareness of human subjectivity (and therefore potential for error) through the use of first person perspective can even reinforce the level of objectivity expected in scientific work. Aside from this, I think peer review does a great job of evaluating research.
Exactly!

Acceptable use of language changes just as clothing styles change (in the 50's, just about all office workers wore suits even if their job never required them to leave their office).

I think the more modern style is to be clear about who is stating a theory or who observed a phenomenom. You have to know your audience, though. Each has their own little quirks.

For example, in the military, only an incredibly lenient commander would accept any paper in which passive sentences comprised more than 10% of the paper (having a junior officer 'exec' that knows how to use the advanced "Spelling and Grammar" tools in Word was always a cause for much wailing and weeping among the 'staffers'). As silly as it may seem, using passive voice implies the author tends to be a passive person, while the military prefers very pro-active officers that display lots of initiative.

Using third person, first person, or avoiding the issue through the use of passive sentences are all technically acceptable. Using the 'right' or 'wrong' style will only affect the readers' opinions of you - whether they think you're too stuffy and archaic or too undisciplined. If you're lucky, your paper will be read by at least three people, each with different standards.
 

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