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Personal pronouns in technical writing

  1. Sep 2, 2014 #1
    So, with the start of a new semester comes new labs, new instructors, new TAs, and new biases on technical writing style [STRIKE]that I must conform to[/STRIKE] to which I must conform. In particular, one of my TAs this semester wants lab reports written without any personal pronouns (including the editorial "we"), but in the active voice. Active with no personal pronouns... this sounds like an awkward style for lab reports.

    Despite how important he said professional writing is, he gave us a lab assignment with major parts written in Comic Sans. This feels rather one-sided.

    I recall from my Technical Writing textbook, and from trends in general, that the preferred style is moving more and more toward active voice with personal pronouns where they improve the flow of the document. Are there any reputable writing style guides for engineering and science that support this?
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2014 #2
    My lab instructor recommended the book 'practical physics' by GL Squires, as a guide throughout the course.

    In it, it says "students are often discouraged from using 'I' in their accounts. There seems to be no sensible reason for this. When you are describing an experiment you actually did, the 'I' style is a natural one and enables you to use the active voice which is simpler and more direct than the passive. However it must be admitted that nowadays few papers, even those describing experiments, are written in the first person. So if you want to be conventional, avoid it. But if you do use it, you will be in the company of Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, and Thompson, which, as Damon Runyon might have said, is by no means bad company at that."

    Nevertheless, he still told us to avoid it...
  4. Sep 2, 2014 #3


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    Assuming your post isn't meant to be a joke, ask him for an example to imitate.

    This sounds like the sort of nonsense up with which one should not be required to put.
  5. Sep 2, 2014 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    I recommend listening to Bob Dole campaign speeches.
  6. Sep 2, 2014 #5


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  7. Sep 2, 2014 #6
    BOAS: Thanks, I appreciate that passage. I'll probably append it to one of my lab reports, written in Comic Sans. I'll use the style he requested for the actual report though, because I kind of like getting points.

    AlephZero: No joke. There is some irony in the situation, but the post is completely sincere.

    Vanadium 50: Nick O finds this funny.
  8. Sep 2, 2014 #7


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    Well, if somebody tried that sort of nonsense on me, he would get reports with the maximum possible number of personal references, all denoted by 'The student formerly known as "I".'
  9. Sep 2, 2014 #8
    Ha! I did consider at least putting [REDACTED] in place of all pronouns.

    I'm writing the first lab report as a full-out IMRaD report complete with table of contents and abstract just for the heck of it. Given that the first lab was just a PSPICE primer (just a software exercise), I think the irony should be obvious.
  10. Sep 2, 2014 #9
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