I have a direct quote in my academic work that is from another academic work. It's something like

"We can analyze the execution time as follows."

I had a reviewer say that, since it's now in my work, I shouldn't use "We". What should I use instead? "They"?

  • 5
    You can't quote a direct quote and change it too.
    – Tinfoil Hat
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 3:42
  • That was my thought too. But maybe they are looking for something like "[They]"? Was hoping to get some insights.
    – Jan Gorzny
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 4:33
  • 2
    One way is to name tham and quote the rest, e.g., Snith and Jones claim that it is possible to “analyze ……etc.”
    – Xanne
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 6:34
  • Using "we" makes it seem that you did the work. Even if it is a quote. That is why it should not be a quote. The reviewer is right.
    – Louic
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 8:21
  • 1
    It would be helpful to have a little bit more context (i.e., textual context).
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 2:03

4 Answers 4


You should not change a direct quote. How about changing it into the following?

XYZ et al. analyzed the execution time as follows.

  • It is sometimes OK to change a direct quote, using square brackets, as OP said. But I agree that dropping the quotation is probably the best solution.
    – gib
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 9:01
  • Some prefer to write "XYZ and colleagues" in prose, saving "et al." for only actual citations. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 20:57

As a bit of a frame challenge. Why are you using a direct quote for this? Direct quotes are typically used very sparingly in academic writing, essentially only appearing when the exact wording being used is relevant to what you are trying to say. In STEM fields (where the use of the academic "we" is typically common) this is very rarely the case. I would even posit that pretty much any sentence that contains the academic "we" is going to be a poor candidate for a direct quote.

So, as a first step reconsider if you really need a direct quote here at all, otherwise switch to an indirect description of the claim you are referencing (as in lordy's answer). If after reconsidering, you are still convinced you need a direct quote, then the solution using square brackets suggested by Allure is standard journalistic practice.

However, do note that this change does not quite cover the full meaning of the academic "we", which typically is closer to "the author and the reader". In cases where the academic we leans more to this usage it might be better to replace it by [One].


Try something like this: if the authors of the direct quote are Smith and Jones, then

[Smith and Jones] analyze the execution time as follows.

The square brackets indicate you have changed the direct quote.

  • 1
    This slightly changes the meaning, so I don't think you should do it
    – gib
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 8:59
  • 1
    "We analyze" in a paper often means "The reader and me" (still not literally, but nearer than "we, the authors") and not the possibly single author.
    – allo
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 12:20

I believe your reviewer wants you to drop the quote from someone else and say it yourself.

This is the perfect place for the passive voice in academic writing:

Before: "We can analyze the execution time as follows."

After: The execution time can be analyzed as follows.

Further reading: Walden University — Scholarly Voice: Active and Passive Voice

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