Style, Genre & Writing
This resource provides a list of key concepts, words, and phrases that multi-lingual writers may find useful if they are new to writing in the North American educational context. It covers concepts and and key words pertaining to the stages in the writing process, style, citation and reference, and other common expressions in academic writing
Last Edited: 2017-08-29 12:12:41
What do you mean by tone in writing? In writing, tone can refer to: a writer’s style, character, or attitudes. As a reader, you will get certain feelings from a writer’s attitude toward certain topics. For example, if a writer expresses his or her passion in some topics, then the tone of the writing will very excited. A writer’s tone can be different from genre to genre, and from topic to topic. A Writer’s tone can be formal, informal, subjective, objective, critical, etc.
Being formal or “informal” is a matter of tone. Having a formal tone is often required in academic writing. When your professors or instructors say you should make your writing sound more formal, it means that you should not use some words that are used in a casual written or spoken forms of language.
For example, the language you use in a casual speech in a small get-together or a party is different from the language you use in your academic writing. It means that you should differentiate your use of language for a casual party and for academic writing.
From your own angle
What does it mean to write from your own angle? If your professors or instructors require you to write something from your own angle, it means that they want to see your own perspectives and your own ways of viewing the world in your writing. It means that you should think about certain topics from your own ways of looking at those topics, instead of reproducing arguments made by others.
First person point-of-view
Firstperson point-of-view refers to using the first-person pronouns I or We. If you write your paper with your co-authors, you might use we in the paper when you are refering to actions or beliefs that you and your co-authors have taken. In the first person point-of-view, you usually write your paper from your own experience or perspective. The use of first person point-of-view is usually avoided in academic writing. But, sometimes you are allowed to use it; for example, when you explain your own data or primary resources.
“Second person point-of-view”
Second person point-of-view means that you use the second-person pronounyou in your writing. You can sound informal to your audience, so it is often avoided in academic writing. But, if you are writing a recipe for some food, or instructions, or in casual or creative writing, you may use second person point-of-view.
Third person point-of-view
Third person point-of-view refers to the use of third-person pronouns: he, she, they, and it. The third person point-of-view has a wide range of uses in both creative and academic contexts.
Context refers to the surroundings of certain words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. The meanings of words, phrases, sentences may change based on a given context. For example, in “give a hand”, “hand” would be interpreted as “help” or “assistance”, rather than as the thing at the end of your arm that has four fingers and a thumb.
Conventions refer certain traditions or rules of a context or genre. In other words, conventions are generally agreed on practices or rules that writers should pay attention to when they compose a text. For example, in academic writing, you should write in a formal style while using certain styles of citation to deliver your arguments to your audience.
If your assignment tells you to write a critical review or critical analysis about a specific topic, it means that you will carefully examine and analyze whatever you are reviewing. You need to lay out and explain your analysis, providing both strengths and weaknesses of it. In this type of writing, it is important to think about your own critical analysis of others' opinions, rather than merely summarizing them.
If your assignment tells you to write an argumentative paper, you will choose your stance on certain topics, and create a statement that clearly reflects your position or opinion on the topic. You will elaborate on your arguments, by explaining further, providing examples, and referencing relevant literature. In an argumentative paper, it is important to have a good understanding of a topic, and to develop your opinion.
If your assignment tells you to write an expository paper, you will explain and illustrate something in a way that your readers can clearly understand what you are saying in your texts. In an expository paper, you will not be expected to write your own opinions, or positions on certain topics. Instead, you will mostly explain, review, and describe certain concepts or facts.
Research writers frequently wonder whether the first person can be used in academic and scientific writing. In truth, for generations, we’ve been discouraged from using “I” and “we” in academic writing simply due to old habits. That’s right—there’s no reason why you can’t use these words! In fact, the academic community used first-person pronouns until the 1920s, when the third person and passive-voice constructions (that is, “boring” writing) were adopted. Recently, however, we’ve shifted back to producing active and engaging prose that incorporates the first person.
However, the use of “I” and “we” still has some generally accepted rules we ought to follow. For example, the first person is more likely used in the abstract, introduction, discussion, and conclusion sections of an academic paper while the third person and passive constructions are found in the methods and results sections.
In this article, we discuss when you should avoid personal pronouns and when they may enhance your writing.
It’s Okay to Use First-Person Pronouns to:
- clarify meaning by eliminating passive voice constructions;
- establish authority and credibility (e.g. assert ethos, the Aristotelian rhetorical term referring to the personal character);
- express interest in a subject matter (typically found in rapid correspondence);
- establish personal connections with readers, particularly regarding anecdotal or hypothetical situations (common in philosophy, religion and similar fields, particularly to explore how certain concepts might impact personal life. Additionally, artistic disciplines may also encourage personal perspectives more than other subjects);
- to emphasize or distinguish your perspective while discussing existing literature; and
- to create a conversational tone (rare in academic writing).
The First Person Should Be Avoided When:
- doing so would remove objectivity and give the impression that results or observations are unique to your perspective;
- you wish to maintain an objective tone that would suggest your study minimized biases as best as possible; and
- expressing your thoughts generally (phrases like “I think” are unnecessary because any statement that isn’t cited should be yours).
The following examples compare the impact of using and avoiding first-person pronouns.
Example 1 (First Person Preferred):
To understand the effects of global warming on coastal regions, changes in sea levels, storm surge occurrences and precipitation amounts were examined.
[Note: When a long phrase acts as the subject of a passive-voice construction, the sentence becomes difficult to digest. Additionally, since the author(s) conducted the research, it would be clearer to specifically mention them when discussing the focus of a project.]
We examined changes in sea levels, storm surge occurrences, and precipitation amounts to understand how global warming impacts coastal regions.
[Note: When describing the focus of a research project, many authors often replace "we" with phrases such as "this study" or "this paper." "We," however, is acceptable in this context, including for scientific disciplines. In fact, recent papers published in Nature, for example, use "we" to establish an active voice. Be careful when using "this study" or "this paper" with verbs that clearly couldn't have performed the action. For example, "we attempt to demonstrate" works, but "the study attempts to demonstrate" does not; the study is not a person.]
Example 2 (First Person Discouraged):
From the various data points we have received, we observed that higher frequencies of runoffs from heavy rainfall have occurred in coastal regions where temperatures have increased by at least 0.9°C.
[Note: Introducing personal pronouns when discussing results raises questions regarding the reproducibility of a study. However, mathematics fields generally tolerate phrases such as "in X example, we see..."]
Coastal regions with temperature increases averaging more than 0.9°C experienced higher frequencies of runoffs from heavy rainfall.
[Note: We removed the passive voice and maintained objectivity and assertiveness by specifically identifying the cause-and-effect elements as the actor and recipient of the main action verb. Additionally, in this version, the results appear independent of any person's perspective.]
Example 3 (First Person Preferred):
In contrast to the study by Jones et al. (2001), which suggests that milk consumption is safe for adults, the Miller study (2005) revealed the potential hazards of ingesting milk. The authors confirm this latter finding.
[Note: "Authors" in the last sentence above is unclear. Does the term refer to Jones et al., Miller, or the authors of the current paper?]
In contrast to the study by Jones et al. (2001), which suggests that milk consumption is safe for adults, the Miller study (2005) revealed the potential hazards of ingesting milk. We confirm this latter finding.
[Note: By using "we," this sentence clarifies the actor and emphasizes the significance of the recent findings reported in this paper. Indeed, "I" and "we" are acceptable in most scientific fields to compare an author's works with other researchers' publications. The APA encourages using personal pronouns for this context. The social sciences broaden this scope to allow discussion of personal perspectives, irrespective of comparisons to other literature.]
Other Tips about Using Personal Pronouns
- Avoid starting a sentence with personal pronouns. The beginning of a sentence is a noticeable position that draws readers’ attention. Thus, using personal pronouns as the first one or two words of a sentence will draw unnecessary attention to them (unless, of course, that was your intent).
- Be careful how you define “we.” It should only refer to the authors and never the audience unless your intention is to write a conversational piece rather than a scholarly document! After all, the readers were not involved in analyzing or formulating the conclusions presented in your paper (although, we note that the point of your paper is to persuade readers to reach the same conclusions you did). While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, if you do want to use “we” to refer to a larger class of people, clearly define the term “we” in the sentence. For example, “As researchers, we frequently question…”
- The first person is becoming more acceptable under Modern English usage standards; however, the second-person pronoun “you” is still generally unacceptable because it is too casual for academic writing.
- Take all of the above notes with a grain of salt. That is, double-check your journal or institution’s author guidelines. Some organizations may prohibit the use of personal pronouns.
- As an extra tip, before submission, you should always read through the most recent issues of a journal to get a better sense of the editors’ preferred writing styles and conventions.