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In this paper I argue that small incentives can lead to greater participation in surveys.

OR

This paper argues that small incentives can lead to greater participation in surveys.


According to Unit 1: An approach to Academic Writing (Page: 22), the first one is informal and should be avoided in the academic writings; I'd agree to it too. However, the second one seems to be odd as the inanimate subject of it (This paper) is followed by an action verb (argues).

Can action verbs be sometimes used with inanimate subjects/topics? Because, otherwise, the second sentence would not be formal either.

  • The source is not focused on formality or informality—both of your examples are "formal" in my view—but on whether the use of first person, the imperative, or sentence-initial but is acceptable as academic style. If your question is whether one is more formal than the other, it is a matter of opinion. If it is a question of whether, according to this specific style guide, the use of I is not good academic style, then you already have the answer. – choster Jul 25 '19 at 14:21
  • There can be different opinions on this. If these are the writing guidelines for your academic institution, or the journal you are writing for, then you should follow them. – DJClayworth Jul 25 '19 at 14:30
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    By the way, you might also be interested in our site for those fluent in English. – DJClayworth Jul 25 '19 at 14:31
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    You may have some mileage over at academia stackexchange. – Bruce Becker Jul 25 '19 at 16:46
  • Similar question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/22186/… – Zeeshan Ali Jul 26 '19 at 14:11
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Generally, in a formal paper the proper etiquette is to avoid first person words/point of view (I, me, we, my, our).

"This paper outlines..." "This paper argues..." "This paper demonstrates.."

The above are all valid for formal academic writing.

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  • Can the inanimate subject (This paper) be followed by an action verb (argues)? – Zeeshan Ali Jul 26 '19 at 4:46
  • It depends on the action verb. You can't, for example, say "this paper eats." It's just a quirk of formal writing, I guess. – keparoo Jul 26 '19 at 17:00
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Academic style varies somewhat from journal to journal and from institute to institute. However, many large academic publishing houses (IEE, IOP, Elsevier) do not express preference on the usage or not of personal pronouns. Often research attempts to express objective truth, where personal pronouns would be misplaced. However it is unavoidably true that someone or a group of people wrote the paper, so these singular (I) or collective (we) pronouns would be fine, since they permit you to use the active voice.

If you feel that "I" is too informal, you could refer to yourself in the third person, by saying "the author".

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