I don't know why, but somehow I don't like "it" or "them" as a pronoun in a formal writing (e.g. in a scientific article)

Is it just my style or is it common? specially for the prepositional phrases with "it" or "them". for example (in it, for it, by it, using it, ...)

After creating a node we can choose a parent for it from the list ...

After creating a node we can choose a parent for this node from the list ...

The later also has repetition! Maybe another alternative exists!

I thought when the sentence gets long, the reader maybe lost the reference of "it" or "them" and someway repeating something is helpful.

For example it was my sentence

To restrict this context to a specific scope within the page, we can choose a “Parent context” for it from the list of previously defined contexts (e.g. “Products”).

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    There is no reason to avoid using it in any register at all. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 22 '15 at 19:51
  • @StoneyB Maybe one reason that sometimes I don't like it is the low stress of it, as it is said in grammar-quizzes.com/it-this.html – Ahmad Jun 23 '15 at 18:01
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    In this particular instance you could omit the reference altogether: "After creating a node we can choose a parent from the list" – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 23 '15 at 19:20
  • @StoneyB Good, cause sometimes it looks like a redundant tail! let's cut it. – Ahmad Jun 23 '15 at 20:13

There is no rule for avoiding it. However, as with all words, you should avoid repetition and make sure your text is readable. Your first sentence is perfectly fine. Just make sure you choose different words to refer to something. If you're talking about Obama, you shouldn't repeat the word Obama all the time. Instead, vary by using the President of the US, the head of state, POTUS or even words such as the man, he, leader and so on.

What follows is a bit more explanation on varying in word choice in texts by using referential words:

The word it as used in your sentence is what we call an anaphor. This means that it is a word referring back to something mentioned earlier in the text. The other two types of 'phor' are the cataphor (referring to something mentioned after the cataphor itself) and the exophor (referring to something outside the text.

Now, anaphors in particular are used to avoid repetition of the same word in your text. You replace a mentioned word, phrase or entire clause with synonyms, pronouns or anything else that could possibly express the same meaning. Let me give you an example:

  • I dropped my phone. It broke.
  • I sang a song, and that was not appreciated by the audience.

Anaphors are used in order to keep a certain part of the text in the reader's mind. For example, if you introduce someone by name in the first paragraph of a text, you cannot all of a sudden refer to that person again using he or she after 100 lines of text if you did not continue on that subject and kept using anaphors to keep that person in your reader's mind. If you then want to talk about that person again, you could use for example:

The person we talked about in the first paragraph.

The longer the distance between the anaphor and the referent, the more explicit you will have to be. The short example sentences I gave above could use it and that. This is because their referents were very close, meaning that not much explicitation is needed to bring the referent back tot he readers mind.

Other than anaphors, you can also use words that link the context in order to keep your text flowing:

I dropped my phone. Its screen cracked. I now won't be able to access my contacts.

Though these words are not synonyms, they refer to each other. Without the first phrase, the second and third ones wouldn't make much sense. The words in bold in the second and third sentence remind the user that we are talking about my phone still.

  • Thank you very much for your complete answer and guidance – Ahmad Jun 22 '15 at 21:14
  • Your explanation was enough, but just for another example I mentioned one of my own sentences in the question. – Ahmad Jun 22 '15 at 21:19
  • That sentence is fine. However, if by choose X for something you mean assign X to something I would go with the latter construction instead. It sounds more idiomatic. – Vlammuh Jun 22 '15 at 21:24
  • Apart from these, maybe another reason is the stress which makes me sometimes prefer the noun over the pronoun, as it is in grammar-quizzes.com/it-this.html – Ahmad Jun 23 '15 at 17:59
  • The article you linked handles pronouns. Both it and this are pronouns. This node is a noun where this is a demonstrative determiner. – Vlammuh Jun 23 '15 at 18:32

Like StoneyB said, there is no reason to avoid using "it". Take your sentence for example:

Is it just my style or is it common?

Avoiding "it", we would have:

Is using the word "it" just my style or is using the word "it" common?

The second sentence, even though it's perfectly valid English, sounds awkward and forced.

Or take the previous sentence of this answer. To rewrite it (there it is again!) without an "it" we would have:

The second sentence, even though the second sentence is perfectly valid English, sound awkward and forced.

Your writing will sound more natural and concise if you use "it".

  • True, but when the sentence gets long, I thought maybe the reader lost the reference of "it" or "them" and someway repeating something is helpful. – Ahmad Jun 22 '15 at 20:39
  • please consider the revision of my question, however its still mostly the same. – Ahmad Jun 22 '15 at 20:42
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    @Ahmad True, there is a balance. Not enough pronouns --> It feels awkward to repeat the noun too many times. Too many pronouns --> You can lose track of which pronoun refers to which. I'd say, just write what feels natural and then read it to yourself, or even to someone else. Even though we don't do proofreading here, a question like "Is it clear what the 'it' in this sentence refers to?" would be a great question for this site. – James Jun 22 '15 at 20:47

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