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I'm currently writing a paper that has some kind of tutorial parts in it. I have written sentences similar to:

«... depending on your operating system, the procedure is different»

Is addressing the reader directly like that in a scientific paper ok? Or should I try to rewrite these sentences?

  • I feel like, at the very least, "our" would be better than "your". Try reading it out and see how it sounds. It gives a much more collaborative feel, no? I'm sure some others would prefer "the reader's" as well. – Compass Oct 7 '14 at 13:40
  • Any chance you could provide us with the complete sentence so far? If you want to censor it a little just replace some nouns with underscores. – NauticalMile Oct 7 '14 at 13:50
  • Another example from the paper: «You can choose how you run your scripts; either interactively, line per line, or as batch jobs, depending on what the script does.» If I change «your» with the «the reader's» it will be a bit too «heavy», no? – brodrigues Oct 7 '14 at 13:50
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    And what about not addressing the reader?: "... depending on the operating system, the procedure is different" – ddiez Oct 7 '14 at 13:51
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Except when outlining a motivation for a particular section in a paper, I would recommend speaking in third person as much as possible. An example of the exception is:

Because our primary interest is in ____ we have chosen to follow the method developed by ___.

For your case I would reword your sentence as:

Depending on the operating system used, the implementation will differ.

Always shift the focus to the things being manipulated, whether it be an experiment, computer program, or anything else.

As for your sentence in the comment you could write it as:

How the scripts are run is at the user's discretion; it may be interactive, line by line, or in batches, depending on its function.

I have used the at the user's discretion a lot in my work; it's a professional way of saying you can do this part however you like. Also, whenever I have to identify somebody whose completing a task, I try and identify them based on the task they are completing (e.g. the analyst, the user, or the programmer). If you say you, you are assuming that the reader is the one who will be carrying out these tasks, which may not be the case.

If you have to address the reader, then you can say something like:

For the reader's convenience, the pertinent information has been summarized in Table 5.

or the famous, albeit witty, cop out:

_____ is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Whether to speak in third person or directly in first person is a matter of taste and tradition. However, when you consider reading papers that are written in an active voice and in a direct way, compared to third person and passive voice there is probably no contest which will put you to sleep first.

Using "this author" about yourself or "the reader" distances both you and the reader from the work, it is as if you are reading account which only concerns others. There is no question that appropriately using "I" for yourself and maybe you for the reader is more direct and makes the communication clear. In an account where you also involve the reader you can also use "we" as in the reader and you, jointly. This is not the royal "We" as used by some.

In your example of "...depending on your operating system, the procedure is different" skipping the "your" would not detract from the message: "...depending on the operating system, the procedure is different". But since you really want to say that differences appear because of the type of operating system used, I would suggest rephrasing to something like "...depending on the choice of operating system, the procedure is different". I am, in this case, not sure if "your" makes the point any clearer to the reader.

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