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I was reading a turkish translation of Robert A. Day , How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper. Foreword is written by A. M. Celâl Şengör. In this foreword

The writer who always uses third person .... should know the origin of this style of expression and should be conscious of that it can sometimes obscure originality of an article. Use of "third person" has become general and a strict editorial policy in some journals. Knowing these facts is only way to resist to Editors who insist on using "third person".

I would like to learn "origin of third person, passive voice in scientific/technical writing"

Turkish Translation :

http://journals.tubitak.gov.tr/kitap/maknasyaz/

Amazon Robert A Day Book :

http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Publish-Scientific-Paper/dp/1573561657

Similar Questions but not same:

  1. What is the difference between writing in the first and the third person?
  2. When *should* I use passive voice?
  3. When should I avoid the passive voice? When might I use it?
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Not sure about how or why it came about, but third person seems to be the writing style which is considered "professional." Not only is it the accepted style for scientific and technical documents, but most fiction is even written in third person. My guess is that it's a cultural thing. –  RobotNerd Nov 14 '11 at 14:40
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I don't understand what is meant by "...and should be conscious of that it can sometimes obscure originality of an article." I need more context as to what's being talked about. Ummm, that is, we need more context. Yes. –  Standback Nov 14 '11 at 15:08
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My guess: it's like saying "People say that..." or "It is known that...." or "You know what they say about..." By talking about a matter in the passive voice, the writer is making assertions without any backup. Maybe it means "either cite your source or state that it's your own opinion"? –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 14 '11 at 15:31
    
It may be translation issue, that is my fault. "..and should be conscious of that it can sometimes obscure originality of an article" --> Alternate Translation: "should know that it [usage of third person] can shadow originality of article". –  Atilla Ozgur Nov 14 '11 at 20:14

2 Answers 2

I have written many scientific papers using first person singular and have not had any problems from editors. Many physics journals encourage it as a matter of fact. I will admit that most papers unfortunately do use this convention. Also, as mentioned, when some papers do use first person, they use plural even if there is only one author. I also use "we" but only in the context when when I am involving the reader, "we can then see that ..."

So, I encourage you to use the first person when it is appropriate. Anything you can do to get your point across in an interesting style helps you.

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I do not know the etymological or cultural roots of using the passive voice/ third person. However, the reason we were given [the reason they gave us], and that sounded to us as perfectly understandable, was that active voice unnecessarily [and undesirably] shifts the focus onto an extraneous element, at least in some instances.

Consider these: "An assignment was given." vs. "The professor gave us an assignment." If the discussion is about the assignment, the first form serves the purpose well, while the second one adds an irrelevant element of who gave the assignment.

However, the trend and tendency now is to actually avoid passive voice as much as one can.

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