Using the third person

Using the third person

The traditional practice in technical writing is to use the third person. This means that you would not write, ‘I have verified that all the results are included in the report’. Instead you would write, ‘It has been verified that all the results are included in the report’. 
‘We will show that the experiment has produced some interesting results’ should be written, 'It will be shown that the experiment has produced some interesting results’. 
This can sound contrived and pompous; but, it is the accepted style of writing in academia. However, the situation in the workplace and in technical journals is changing and there are now no hard and fast rules. It is important that you find out what rules or guidelines (if any) are available for your work. These can be either on GCULearn or in the instructions for authors section of a journal's web site.

Which "voice"?

As well as using the third person you may write in the active or passive voice. This provides opportunity for you to place emphasis on the appropriate part of the sentence as shown here:

  • Passive: The first steam locomotive was designed by George Stephenson. Here the emphasis is on the first steam locomotive (the result or a fact).
  • Active: George Stephenson designed the first steam locomotive. Here the emphasis is on George Stephenson (the person or thing who did it).
  • Passive: The accuracy of measurements has been improved by new laboratory equipment.
  • Active: New laboratory equipment has improved the accuracy of measurements.

Again, there are so hard and fast rules, so check before submitting your work.

This is the end of the section on technical writing, but the general spelling and grammar section contains more useful information.

Creative Commons Licence
SMILE Technical writing by Marion Kelt, GCU, Vince Ricci, CIEE, Joe Schall, PennState University and Glynis Perkin, Loughborough University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International LicenseDetails on our credits page.