Scientific writing - we vs. I

S L Forsburg forsburg at
Thu Mar 27 11:03:05 EST 1997

Robin Panza wrote:
> I was trained to always use the passive ("this was
> done", not "I did") in writing.  I was told that we are reporting results, not
> "tooting our own horns" about what ingenious people we are to have come up with
> this experimental design.  To me, both "I did" and "We did" sound silly, even
> childish.

I had conflicting training, owing to having a degree in both  English
Molecular Biology.  In writing for my English degree, the passive
voice was rejected soundly.  In writing for molecular biology,
the passive was embraced for the reasons Robin discusses.  Personally I 
can't stand the passive, which is awkward, and to me attempts to
imply that the experiments did themselves.  In my view, they 
didnt;  I, or we, did them, so I write in the active voice.  I don't
view it as "tooting our own horns" (aside directed at  non-native 
English speakers, do you have a similar idiom for boasting 
 in your native language?), so much as accepting responsibility.

>I know this is considered outdated by some (boy, does it make me feel 
> old!), but I've not seen a reason to change.  I feel the same about 
> grammer.

I view the passive/active as a usage issue apart from the rules of

-- susan

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S L Forsburg, PhD
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 

forsburg at

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