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Before, referring just to some other question that sounds likely to be the same, e.g., about can I write: "I/We have developed X?", what I am asking about is: "Let us (you the reader and I the post author) discuss if the use of we in this context is acceptable". If you don't get the different meaning of the use of we, don't answer.

For instance, I am talking about the use of "Let us consider that in the context of this thesis, $x$ is ...". Or a phrase as the following: "For this reason, we can assume ...". When I read something, I think this style really good for explaining difficult topics. But an experienced colleague (post-doc) said that I use we/us to often in my PhD thesis. I said that I use it as we / us in the sense of the reader and writer exploring the topic together. However, he did not understand what I mean with that. I also think if he really thinks I am talking about me with the phrase we/us makes no sense. It would be crazy because I am only one person. In the feedback of my both supervisors / profs it was not mentioned, although I guess on their corrections and comments they read the section deeply.

Is it bad style or can it be used? Maybe bad feedback? Should I ask my supervisors if that is an issue? What is your opinion on that? Some articles with more information of this discussion?

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  • @Nobody no, it is not about the kind of I use it. May 20, 2023 at 11:02
  • @henning no, it is not about the kind of I use it. May 20, 2023 at 11:02
  • This? academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2945/…
    – henning
    May 20, 2023 at 11:06
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    @henning: not the question, but a citation in the accepted answer sounds great: "There is nothing wrong with the editorial "we", but if you like it, do not misuse it. Let "we" mean "the author and the reader" (or "the lecturer and the audience"). Thus, it is fine to say "Using Lemma 2 we can generalize Theorem 1", or "Lemma 3 gives us a technique for proving Theorem 4". It is not good to say "Our work on this result was done in 1969" ... is always bad." Paul Halmos (Section 12 of "How to Write Mathematics"). Just thinking why the post-doc does not know this kind of "we"? May 20, 2023 at 11:14
  • Ask your supervisor.
    – Ben Bolker
    May 20, 2023 at 16:59

3 Answers 3

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Your question is based on a false dichotomy. The answer to your literal question is:

Yes, it can be used.

Yes, it can be bad style.

The above is true for most aspects of writing. Figuring out where your writing falls is the tricky part and arguably can't be done just based on your snippets.

Learning the nuances of academic writing and improving your style takes many years (decades?) of repeated writing. One key element to improve is to take into consideration feedback from others. In particular, your supervisor is a great source of feedback on your writing! You don't need to agree with all their feedback, but if you disagree, try to find out exactly what they are trying to say. Do not just dismiss their concern outright.

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Some people think it is OK, and in some fields it is common.

But your examples sound verbose and slightly grating. For example, "Let us consider that in the context of this thesis" could probably be changed to "In this thesis."

I agree with your colleague. I think you should use it less.

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I think that the mistake you are making is that in academic writing the writer and reader are not exploring the topic together. The reader and writer have distinct roles: The writer makes his/her/their point, and the reader checks if they find that argument convincing.

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