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I am writing my thesis and in many cases I want to take the reader through an example. For example:

Besides the advanced composition rules, it is also important to have a set of basic rules to help in controlling some of the elements of the frame. For example, I may want to have a river across the diagonal of the frame yet I want some animals near the river to be in the top-left corner of the frame. I can use the diagonal dominance rule on the river to assure that it is shown diagonally but the other advanced rules cannot be of any use for placing the animal in the top-left corner of the frame. For this, I have implemented the following basic composition rules and found them to be enough for most applications:

As you can see, I am talking the reader through an example to help distinguish how basic composition rules are also important. So which is better to use here, "I" or "We" meaning I and the reader? Or actually, is the second case even understood in English writing or it will be understood as there are many authors, or the author is showing off?

I don't feel comfortable with "I" because it gives a personal feeling to the statement. In other words, how am I important here? So it is some experiment that I have done so that I must say I.

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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think the answer for this is going to depend on your audience. "I" and "We" are both first person, and the use of first person is usually considered more casual, and not suited for formal writing in many academic fields. But I think this rule is relaxing, and your instructor may or may not want you to follow it. I'd check.

Assuming you're allowed to use first person, my personal preference would be to use "I". "We" is more vague - who are "we", exactly, and why are you speaking for us?

You could also re-write this passage in third person: "For example, the artist may want to have a river across the diagonal of the frame and also to to have some animals near the river in the top-left corner of the frame. The diagonal dominance rule would apply to the river, but the other advanced rules cannot be of any use..."

In this case, I think the example you gave sounds like a personal reflection, while the rewrite sounds more like a statement of universal truths. Which effect are you going for?

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The answer is going to depend on context, and the consistency of your usage.

The "I" in your example quote clearly refers to you, the author, and does not include the reader.

Replacing "I" with "we" does indicate you are referring to both you and the reader.

However, you have to be cautious, because the context could change. For example, you could reach a point where you need to refer to you and someone else other than the reader, in which case using "we" could confuse the issue.

Personally, if you are addressing the reader, and you want to take the reader through an example, I would consider using "you" directly instead of "we". Remember: the example is for the benefit of the reader, and not yourself. Therefore, use "you" and "I" so that there is no ambiguity.

An example rework of what you've given:

Besides the advanced composition rules, it is also important to have a set of basic rules to help in controlling some of the elements of the frame. For example, you may want to have a river across the diagonal of the frame, yet also want some animals near the river to be in the top-left corner of the frame. You can use the diagonal dominance rule on the river to assure that it is shown diagonally, but the other advanced rules cannot be of any use for placing the animal in the top-left corner of the frame. For this, you should implement the following basic composition rules, which I found to be enough for most applications:

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Good note. I like the "you" idea to be honest, but some people don't like the idea of talking to the reader directly, because it will sound like a lecture. Thinking this way, I came to realise that using "We" to refer to I is also making it sounds like a lecture, so I think the best answer is @Kate's. –  Promather May 2 '11 at 14:36
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You may want to ask your thesis adviser about this specific case.

"We" can be completely acceptable in formal documentation, e.g. business communication.

"We" can also be acceptable in informal problem solving, e.g. it's frequently used during academic lectures while explaining an example, as I expect you're mirroring in the writing.

Whether "we" is acceptable in a document that is both formal and academic probably depends upon your department and the ultimate destination of the thesis.

(E.g. my undergrad sociology thesis probably would not have cared.)

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I always use 'we' in academic writing to avoid the over-personal 'I'. In this context, 'we' stands for 'us, the people that conducted this research and are writing this paper'. There are many examples of this use in published papers, frequently with just one author.

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Yes, but you are talking about a paper and I am talking about a thesis, which is written by one author only. –  Promather May 4 '11 at 7:42
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