13

A colleague of mine recently used the word "herein" in a research article (of which I am a co-author) to mean essentially "in this paper". To me it makes the paper read more like a legal document than a research article, so I commented that I would I prefer a phrase like "in this research", "in this paper", or "in this work". A quick google search showed that sometimes researchers use such words, but I haven't done a detailed check of how common it is. I can only go from my own experience that I don't often see this type of language used in scientific articles and that it sounds awkward to me. My question for this community is would you use words like "herein", "hereinafter", etc. in a scientific research article, or do they belong rather exclusively to legal literature/documents as my intuition tells me?

  • 6
    @O.R.Mapper “Here” is even shorter and avoids the “legal” connotation. (“Here we show that …”) – xebtl Jul 6 '15 at 8:27
  • 25
    As someone who also routinely uses such words, I would take offense to a suggestion that it somehow constitutes bad writing. (And depending on how the suggestion was worded, I would feel free to say what I think of your own writing.) – fkraiem Jul 6 '15 at 9:37
  • 13
    "Herein" sounds perfectly normal to use in a piece of formal writing to me. – Calchas Jul 6 '15 at 12:00
  • 6
    @xebtl "" is even shorter! If you say "We show", it's usually clear that you're talking about "this paper". After all, if you showed it somewhere else, you would have said where. – David Richerby Jul 6 '15 at 12:27
  • 21
    @fkraiem While I agree that "Herein" is just fine, I feel that criticizing your co-author's style of writing is one of the basic functions of joint writing. We scribble notes like "this sounds too informal", "write this more precisely", "this is hand-wavy", or even "is this even English?" on paper drafts all the time, and I feel I would not want to write a paper with somebody who gets upset about such comments. If you care so much about simple questions of writing style, how do you react if a co-authors tells you that the content of a section is too weak? – xLeitix Jul 6 '15 at 14:17
40

Here's a factual and quantifiable answer to your question :)

enter image description here

As you can see in the Google NGram, the word "herein" has been the popular way to convey this idea historically but has since 1920 lost popularity. "in this study" and "in this paper" together outweigh "herein" almost double up at this point.

(end:facts, begin: speculation)
Take the following with a pinch of salt; but if you consider why this is the case, I'd say "herein" is the old way of saying the exact same thing as the other two. Sometimes people associate older phrasing with being finer, more eloquent and indeed sometimes even more intellectual, in a Twain-esque way. Please note that I am not accusing your colleague of thinking in this way, but sometimes people tend to choose the fancier/older word because it "sounds better".

I have to say I really don't buy the argument of "herein" being shorter; you save 2 words or 6 characters (incl. whitespace). I would presume that you don't refer to the article more than 4-5 times throughout the course of the paper, so your saving is approximately 10 words, or 30 characters, which is not that much. I am willing to accept that excuse for an abstract maybe but certainly not for a research article where you typically have 5000 words or more to describe your work.

  • Concerning your last paragraph: Some disciplines have extremely strict page limits, and a single line (which can well be influenced by a single word, or even just single letters) more or less can make all the difference. (As xebtl correctly notes, there are even shorter alternatives for such a situation, though.) – O. R. Mapper Jul 6 '15 at 9:36
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper sure, in biomedical sciences you are quite often given a hard limit on the number of words (rather than pages) but my point is still valid, it's likely that you can reformulate something else instead of resorting to outdated language. – posdef Jul 6 '15 at 9:40
  • 1
    I would offer that a chart indicating changes in use over time is not indicative of correctness. Herein is an entirely proper word in this context. – David W Jul 7 '15 at 16:44
  • 1
    @DavidW a careful reader might have noticed that my answer does not claim that the word is not correct or proper, but merely not used as much anymore. – posdef Jul 7 '15 at 19:52
  • 1
    @posdef And a similarly careful reader might have noticed that I did not suggest your answer made such a claim :) – David W Jul 7 '15 at 19:53
34

As a quick attempt at a relatively objective answer to this question, I searched all the PDFs in my "papers" folder for the string "herein". I didn't restrict to whole words, because I think that any word containing "herein" as a substring is also one of the words you're asking about. ("wherein", "therein", "hereinafter").

The data set consisted of 1709 PDF files of scientific articles, most of them in the field of geosciences, the overwhelming majority published after 1950.

Results of the search: 614 hits for "herein" in 286 documents; that is, around 17% of the articles contain this string. The real figure is likely to be a little higher, since not all the PDFs contain text (some are scanned images with no OCR); also, a few of them are in French, German, or Swedish rather than English, and should thus have been excluded from consideration.

Conclusion: "herein" is not particularly unusual or unnatural, at least in my field.

As a side note: personally I'm cautious about using phrases like "in this work", because I've come across many instances of ambiguity with such phrases. Sometimes authors use it to refer to the paper they're writing, and at other times to another paper they've just mentioned. I'd prefer "in the present work" over "in this work" for this reason, even though I consider it a little clunkier.

  • Is In this work / Herein even necessary? It seems like fluff that could be elided entirely. – Dogweather Jul 8 '15 at 0:25
  • @Dogweather Personally I suspect that it's often redundant, especially if you're writing in the first person. But I'm not going to attempt a data-based answer, because it would be a lot of work :). – Pont Jul 8 '15 at 7:35
5

I would not. I have no data to back this up, but in my experience (and field: physics), these words are uncommon, and I would probably consider such usage bad writing. The last point of course depends somewhat on the context; maybe it is more accurate to say, I would expect to see such usage only in a badly written paper.

As alternatives, I would prefer “in this work” (but not “in this research”, which sounds wrong, nor “in this paper” which sounds too colloquial to me) or something similar (“in this article”; “in this Letter” for some journals); or even just “here”.

2

"Herein" is fine to use, even today, in English-language writing. It does not relate to "legal" documents only.

However:

Scientific research papers are often read by those whose native language is not English. Thus, in such writing, it is better to use simple English than sophisticated English. So why not use a simpler alternative to "herein"?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.