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I am currently writing my masters thesis in computer science. I've heard that one should avoid writing "I".

In cases where one describes what was done and it doesn't matter who did it, I understand why writing "I" should be avoided. I, however, wonder if it is ok in the following case:

In the following, it is assumed that the reader knows XYZ. In case
the reader needs a refresher on any of those topics, I recommend ...

It is a subjective statement which is not necessary, but might help students who might in future read it. I should probably point out that a CS master thesis is expected to have about 80 pages, hence length-wise it doesn't really matter. It should be clear that it is subjective; if I changed it to the passive (it is recommended...) then it sounds as if there is a consensus in the community.

Some people recommend writing "the author". It, however, sounds strange and it is absolutely clear that "I" is "the author". Hence I don't see an advantage in doing so except for beating automatic tools / grading sheets.

  • Personally, if length (and time) is no issue, then I would write my own summary of XYZ. That way the thesis remains nicely self-contained. – astronat Apr 24 '17 at 15:30
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Unless there is some reason to specifically avoid it (e.g., your have an advisor who absolutely won't tolerate it), feel free to use the first person and "I" statements in lieu of traditional academic language like "the author" or a strict adherence to the passive voice. Your readers presumably already know you are the author. Anything you can do to improve their comprehension of your work is worth doing. Plus, as this editorial in Nature suggests, "Personal language builds a connection to the reader and helps, ultimately, to persuade".

As for the literature suggestions, a separate section for providing some brief background explanations may be helpful. You can use such a section to include context along with references to the further reading.

  • +1 for "Your readers presumably already know you are the author." – Wolfgang Bangerth Apr 25 '17 at 2:16
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It is generally easy to rephrase it to avoid the issue altogether. Doing so is often more readable, since the sentence will be about the literature rather than your recommendation.

"For a thorough survey of topic X, refer to Blah."

  • Good point. And this could be supplemented by pointing out that if the culture in your department goes against the use of "I," then you might as well rewrite the sentence to avoid the first person. This would not be a big deal. – aparente001 Apr 26 '17 at 5:26
  • @aparente001I'm not even concerned about culture, but rather readability. Is the sentence about your recommendation (e.g., "I recommend...") or is it about the literature (e.g., "For a review of topic blah..."). Updated my answer to reflect that point. – Austin Henley Apr 26 '17 at 15:41

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