This came up when I was writing my thesis:

Usually it is recommended that when writing a thesis, one sticks to passive voice and use sentences that read like "The study showed the effect that blah blah has on the blah of blah" and so on.

In certain situations, one needs to mention something analogous to "Through this study we showed blah blah". In such a situation, how does one go about writing it? The thesis is supposed to be an individual's attempt and so the usage of "we" seems inappropriate. In the same way, use of "I" is frowned upon. How does one write sentences like these?

Using alternates like

"Through this study the author showed"

"This study showed"

seem a little redundant because of over usage of "the author" or "the study". Are there other alternatives?

Further, in a paper one can write sentences like "We believe that the effect of X on Y is because of the presence of Z" but how does one write similar sentences in a thesis?

  • 3
    "The data proved", "The evaluation confirmed", "The analysis revealed", ... Don't be redundant ;) Feb 20, 2014 at 23:51
  • Use "we".
    – Vorac
    Aug 6, 2020 at 12:08

3 Answers 3


I often run into this problem too. I think in the end it usually sounds redundant anyways but I use phrases like "the data suggest" or "the results suggest" in the discussion and in the introduction I usually just state the claim without attributing it to myself since it's assumed it is "this study" (unless it's cited information). You don't technically have to attribute the statements unless there things you citing from your previous work or others works. Other times it's useful to just write the sentence and then edit it like this:

"Through this study we showed the influence of three iron oxides concentration on soil color" becomes "The concentration of these three iron oxides influences soil color by blah" or "The influence of these three iron oxides concentration on soil color is blah." Which makes the sentence more concise and direct while removing any need of attribution.

When referring to other authors work I generally just rely on the in-text citation but sometimes I'll say something like "has been described by (Authors)" or "hypotheses developed by (Authors) suggest" or "a (year) study by (Authors) concluded that."

As for the last sentence I would probably write something like "The effect of X on Y appears to be influenced by the presence of Z which is supported by the data (chart or table or statistical output)" or "Z influences interactions between X and Y by blah."

As a side note, avoid making statements that affirm definite causation like "is because of" or "prove" and instead use some form of suggests or supports/is supported by. And this may be just a stylistic choice but I try not to use show/shows/showed.


Trying to avoid the word "I" often leads to convoluted prose. The active voice and use of "I" result in easy-to-read, unambiguous sentences.
So unless the style guide of your university forbids the use of "I", I wouldn't worry and use the active voice. Here's an example of a thesis style guide that recommends the use of active voice.


I studied literature twentyfive years ago and now study psychology. When I dealt with literary theory and analysis a quarter of a century ago, I learned to avoid any direct reference to myself by using convoluted sentence structure and passive voice. If I could not avoid that reverence or needed to use it, I would use a pluralis majestatis to inluce both the author(s) and the readers. This worked, because usually what was described in those texts was in fact actively done by both authors and readers: "Looking at the plot, we can see that ..." – and of course the readers can see what the author sees as well. Otherwise it would not be objective and therefore not scholarship. So that plural is fitting.

In psychology (and other natural sciences), articles usually describe an experiment and its results. The experiment is not conducted by the readers, but by the author(s) of the article. So the rule is to refer to the author(s). If it is one author, this person refers to him- or herself as "I". If it is a team, they write of themselves as "we". Simple and straightforward.

If the authors believe something, they write "We believe" and argue why they do so. (In the natural sciences, belief is not worth much, you want proof. So you won't find a sentence like that very often.)

If the study found something, you write: "There is a significant correlation between ...". No need to write about the study at all. Just stick closely to the facts. The only time you refer to the study is when you describe its place in the research history: you undertake that study, because you want to find out if ... After that you describe what you do, what comes out, and how that relates to other studies.

The study does not show anything! In science there can always only be proof against something: Hypothesis: All swans are white. Observation: Black swan. Result: Hypothesis disproved. You can never prove anything!!! Because you cannot observe everything everywhere always. Even if in fact all swans are either white or black, you can never be sure, because maybe there was one brown mutation a hundred years ago (or will be a hundred years in the future). So studies do not show anything, you can only disprove a hypothesis. And that you can write like that. No need to refer to the study at all.

The best practice is always to pick a selecton of professional publications in your field and do like they do.

  • The question was specifically about thesis. What you say is valid and stands for any scientific paper where "we believe" and similar sentence formation works. However, what do you do when writing a thesis. Use of "we" may not be correct because the work done was by the author of the thesis and not a group of people. Feb 26, 2014 at 12:55
  • @PraveshParekh In my answer I refer to the "author(s)" of a publication and say that you should refer to him, her or them according to their number: Write "I" for one author, "we" for two or more. And do directly refer to the author(s) and don't use passive or impersonal constructions (e.g. "one would see") or a plural majestatis if there is only one author. But it's all in my answer already.
    – user5645
    Feb 26, 2014 at 13:03
  • @PraveshParekh Oh, and a thesis is no different than any other publication in your field. It has to follow the same standards.
    – user5645
    Feb 26, 2014 at 13:04
  • Side (non-writing) comment: statistical and especially systematic error applies to falsification as well as validation. Hypotheses are also typically filled with implicit assumptions (e.g., only considering naturally occurring swans on Earth, use of present tense implies currently), sometimes even the field of study is not aware of the assumptions. Removing or measuring/limiting systematic error is comparable to debugging software.
    – user5232
    Feb 26, 2014 at 17:31

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