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I am writing an article for a peer reviewed journal in the field of literature, and I am wondering about the use of colloquial expressions like: "Let's take a step back", or "Let's look at the data", "Let's look at the coxtext" etc. Would you suggest avoid these forms? Could you maybe suggest me a subsitute formula to express the same idea?

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    Would "Let us take a step back ...", or "Taking a step back ..." work? – Emma Apr 11 at 13:55
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In general I don't think it's a big issue but alternatives may look better, here are a few suggestions:

  • "Let's take a step back" -> "from a broader perspective"; "in a larger context"
  • "Let's look at the data" -> you don't need this at all, you can just start talking about the data: "the data shows that...", "in the data we observe that..."
  • "Let's look at the context" -> you don't need it here either: "the context consists of...", "to put this analysis in context, ...."
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It is probably a mistake in extremely formal writing, but many people write as if the paper is a conversation between the author and the readier. If the material is appropriate for that view, then the form is quite appropriate.

How formal the writing should be depends somewhat on where you do it and even more on the audience.

One way to know whether it is appropriate in your own circumstance is to look at how other recent papers in your field are written. It is probably safe to emulate them.

I'll also note that historically we seem to be moving from a more to a less formal presentation style in general, but the rate isn't uniform across fields. We are, in fact, normally writing for our colleagues, so it is fairly normal to consider our writing as a conversation. This is especially true if, in writing, you are mentally focused on the reader him/herself, rather than the material itself. Which view is more or less natural depending on the field.

  • After posting my answer I noted that it applies to your answer as well: Does the last paragraph starts with "I will" or "I shall"? – Dirk Oct 21 at 15:26
  • @Dirk, I honestly didn't consider it. The colloquial meaning is close enough. But "shall" is becoming a bit archaic, I think. See everything2.com/title/will+vs.+shall – Buffy Oct 21 at 15:44
  • Never mind - and thanks for the link! I didn't know that the matter with shall and will is so intricate. – Dirk Oct 21 at 18:43
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I think this is frowned upon in academic writing. Personally, I am happy with abbreviated form like "let's" or "didn't", but since English is not my native language, I always need some time to extract the meaning of something like "that'd" (is it "that would" or "that had" or maybe something else?).

So I would suggest to just the full unabbreviated form: Just write "let us", "did not", "that would",...

It has exactly the same meaning, always sounds as good or better to non-native speakers (which are likely to be the majority of your readers), and is faster to parse for them.

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I would avoid contractions and a too chatty manner. This doesn't mean you have to be stilted either. You can still use short sentences and short paragraphs and gutty Anglo-Saxon words. This will be enough to make your articles enjoyable to read--more so than the norm--while still passing the pompous preening set.

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