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While writing papers (computer science, on the border with digital humanities), I find it quite natural to write

In the following section we will present some examples of such and such.

or

To illustrate these point we will use a few examples of increasing complexity.

Many style guides forbid the use of the future tense and suggest the following formulations, that I personally find too stiff.

The following section presents some examples of such and such

and

Examples of increasing complexity illustrate these points.

(The last sentence is plain ugly.)

I do understand the will to use a language that keeps papers as much factual as possible, but should this dry style be used also for the more narrative parts of a paper?

  • Your first two examples sound strange if they would appear in a paper (my personal opinion). You have already written the paper. You "will" not present somethings, its already there. I would expect such formulations in a talk or presentation about the topic. Nevertheless, the third example sounds quite good and I have also used this formulation. I think this might also be dependent on personal preferences whether someone likes future tense. However, I don't and I have rarely encountered it in papers. – J-Kun Feb 13 '18 at 11:32
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    This kind of future tense is very common in math writing. I can’t speak for other fields. – Noah Snyder Feb 13 '18 at 18:42
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    You changed more than the tense in your examples, which makes it hard to study the effect of tense alone. The only odd sentence to me is the one in which the section is doing the presenting of your work. – Michael Greinecker Feb 13 '18 at 21:55
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I think that this is pretty field dependent. The first two sentences don't strike me as odd, though J-Kun strongly disagrees in the comments. In particular, I would say that the phrase "in this paper we will show" is common in the papers I read. I have first hand experience that the future tense used in this way is common in mathematics, computer science, and philosophy.

I also have very strong opinions about the fact that papers should not be dry. The fact that some researchers praise dry writing is fundamentally misguided in my mind. Papers are written by humans to be read by humans, and should be enjoyable to read. In my field (theoretical computer science), historical anecdotes, philosophical interludes, jokes, and amusing names are commonplace in academic writing. I strongly discourage you from aiming for dryness in any portion of your paper.

Given the field-dependent nature of stylistic issues like this, consulting the editorial guidelines of the journal or journals you hope to publish this paper in / have published in in the past would likely be your best option. Even if they don’t have specific style guidelines, you can usually in for what is preferred by reading other papers published by these journals.

EDIT: In your edit, you specify that you're in computer science. In my experience, computer science writing is far more conversational, and computer science culture is far more casual, than most other fields. I doubt anyone would bat an eye at either of the first two phrases. In fact, the paper I currently have open on the Arthur-Merlin Protocols says:

In Section 3 we will also use the representation of Boolean functions by polynomials with real polynomials (p. 5)

We will show that this protocol needs communication at least Ω(√na), which implies the theorem. (p6)

and has similar constructions in at least four other places. IIRC, Babai's original paper introducing the A-M protocols had the first four pages entirely in the form of a faux mythological story about King Arthur.

  • My field is CS. Thank you for you corroborating my hypotheses: papers in our field sounds more "conversational" than in other fields. AFAIK, ACM and IEEE don't have any kind of content guidelines, only stylistic and reference guidelines. – gioele Feb 13 '18 at 21:06
  • @gioele I've edited a response to your edit and comment. – Stella Biderman Feb 13 '18 at 21:13

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