Course subject(s) Writing


It is quite difficult to write a text in formal English, and it would go too far to discuss every aspect of it in this remedial course. What we will do, however, is focus on one aspect of formal English, which is how to make your texts more academic by eliminating the use of “I” or “you”.

In Dutch, and informal English, it is quite common to say “you”, when you actually mean “I”. For instance, soccer players are quite good at this. Try to listen for this next time you hear a player speak: “Well, you try to do your best to score, but if you don’t succeed, you feel quite irritated by this”.

There is nothing wrong with the use of “you” in this particular situation, but it becomes a problem when this way of speaking is transferred to written style. It would be better to just say “I’, but unfortunately there is another convention written English that says you cannot use “I” either.

The reason why “you” should be avoided is that it can also be used to address the reader, as is done in most of the texts in these modules, but this is not done in academic writing. Especially when the writer switches from “I” to “you” in a paper, this can become confusing.

What about “ we” then? That is a bit more complicated: it is used from time to time, for instance when a team of researchers present their results in a paper, but some people still frown upon it. To be on the safe side, let’s try to avoid using “we” as well.

For more information on formal writing, click on this link: Formal and informal language.

You may also find it helpful/useful to listen to the podcast on objectivity you find below.

One final note:
Another frequently occurring stylistic error is the use of contractions, like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc.
Please try and avoid these in formal writing (so use cannot (one word!), will not and should not instead).

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Self Study English for Dutch Students by TU Delft OpenCourseWare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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