I'm in my last week of my mathematics masters dissertation and I don't really know how to refer to my own work and to myself in the dissertation. To refer to myself I'm using "this author" but it sounds a bit hokey, but obviously I feel like using "I" is a bit too informal.

Likewise, I'm referring to own workings, as an example, as "we will complete this proof ourselves" which again sounds odd (and I've put in my introduction that this is how "this author" will refer to own workings). I don't particularly want to refer to all my work as "this author's work" as I feel like it's a bit pretentious for just a masters diss.

In my undergrad dissertation I just omitted this phrasing and stated that all work without a citation is my own, but my referencing style has changed since then and it would be easy for the examiners to mistake my own work as something from a source.

On the flip side, my writing style is pretty eloquent for a maths student so perhaps using more pretentious language isn't out of place?

  • I'm at least a little confused. Are you trying to refer to an external document where you were the author? Or are you trying to refer to yourself within the thesis? Does "we will complete this proof ourselves" mean "the proof of this follows later in this document" or "I do not have any proof and it does not exist written down in another document, but I intend to prove it later?"
    – user137975
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:35
  • 1
    So I'm using "this author" in the context of referring to myself inside the thesis, eg, "in this report, this author does not claim any original results". As for the "we will complete the proof ourselves", yeah, that's why I'm hesitant to use it because it's a bit confusing - it's basically a way to say (in the proof of a theorem) "I did these calculations myself without the use of another source"
    – jdxoxo
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:55

4 Answers 4


It is ok and IMO important to refer to yourself in the first person in this situation. You are presenting your work in person before a live and for attribution purposes you need to make this clear.

Doing so also also makes it clear when you refer to work done by others, or when you refer to work done in collaboration. In the former you can use “the author(s) of this or that work…” and in the latter you we use “we”.


The other answers make sense to me. You may be slightly hung up because some the results you're writing down, or proofs, aren't new. But this is reasonably common in dissertations and theses, which are longer form documents and have a more pedagogical purpose than research articles.

If you need to refer to content within the same document, there are approximately three "standard" options:

  1. Use "we" in the first person plural sense. Example: "The statements of the results we consider here are not new. Adam's textbook [--], for instance, provides a thorough accounting of Fizzbuzz Theory. The proofs here are new, though they largely follow well-known strategies."

  2. Direct references to a numbering scheme. Example: "Theorems 2.3-5 are standard results in Fizzbuzz Theory. See Adam's textbook [--,Thms 1.1.1, 1.1.2], for instance. Proofs using the standard approaches are included for the sake of completeness."

  3. Indirect references. Example: "While the results from Fizzbuzz Theory included here are not new, proofs using the standard approaches are included for the sake of completeness. See Adam's textbook [--,Thms 1.1.1, 1.1.2], for instance, for a thorough introduction to Fizzbuzz Theory.

If you are using well-known proof strategies but want to provide some more explicit details that are usually omitted, you can say so either near the proof or inline:

Example: One of the fundamental theorems of Fizzbuzz Theory establishes the relationship between fizzes, buzzes, and fizzbuzzes. The standard introductions to the subject omit in their proofs the details of a computation involving wizzbangs [citations] and the following proof completes these more explicitly.

Theorem 1.0. Fizzes buzz if and only if they fizzbuzz.
Proof. ...


I find both "the author" and "we" to be acceptable.

Note that there are two interpretations of "we". The first is the "royal We" indicating that the speaker is somehow superior. This is rarely the intent, so don't capitalize "we". See: pluralis modestiae.

But the other interpretation is an invitation by the author to the reader to come along for the ride as the proof/argument develops. We implies both the author and the reader. This is, of course, quite informal, somewhat like a conversation. But it seems, to me, to fit well with a variation on your example: "we will complete this proof as follows".

"The author" treats the work as something in itself, external to its creators. It is more formal. "We" treats the work (more) as a human construct and is more informal. But either can work.

I prefer not to use "I" for the same reason I don't like the "royal We" interpretation. It is a bit pompous. And referring to yourself by surname may be too formal and does (IMO) seem weird.

Your advisor can probably give advice valuable in your local context about how formal your writing should be.

  • 1
    But be careful! I find many authors, myself included (though I'm fighting it), have a tendency to switch between the royal we and the first-person-plural meanings. Especially hazardous when there are multiple authors on a paper.
    – user137975
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:37
  • 1
    @AnonymousM, For multiple authors "we" is pretty natural. And the cases can be confused. But that is a result of the fact that English doesn't have sufficient simple terms to distinguish those cases. We make do with what we have.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:41

Try using "the present author"

In this answer, the present author is suggesting that you use the attribution "the present author". The present author feels that this attribution gives the requisite formality and critical distance of the third-person, while still reminding the reader that the writer is talking about their own work. The present author uses this assignation occasionally in academic writing, with pleasing results.

  • The "present" or current author in contrast to some hypothetical future author? Or is there another sense of "present" in use here?
    – J W
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 6:37

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