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I am choosing between two sentences:

  1. We display the values of X in Table 1.

  2. The values of X are displayed in Table 1.

The first is more action-oriented, the second is more passive but focuses on the values in the table more. Which is better for scientific writing, and are there times when one is better than the other?

  • Hi, and welcome to Writers. Requests for single sentences are off-topic for us, but they may be acceptable on English if phrased correctly. I will ask if the mods can migrate. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jul 27 '17 at 18:40
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    I'd like to see if we can keep this open here rather than just send it to English. Do people think my edit is an improvement? – Neil Fein Jul 27 '17 at 23:41
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    Tiếu, Welcome to Writers! Thanks for the question, we'll try and get you answers. – Neil Fein Jul 27 '17 at 23:42
  • What is more common in the science writing that you read? – Ken Mohnkern Jul 28 '17 at 12:45
  • Several math sites have it, e.g. mathworld.wolfram.com/Ellipse.html (you'll want a approximation, most likely) – Rolazaro Azeveires Jul 29 '17 at 21:44
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It depends on the rest of your text.

I'd personally go with option 2, since it sounds more impersonal and straight-to-the-point, but if you already used something like the first option previously in your paper, you may want to keep the same style for consistency.

Honestly I don't know if one formula is better than the other. What I can imagine is that the first option emphasize the subject. It may be good if you want to stress out the work that you or your team have done, but it might come off as a bit pretentious, imho.

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Discussions of the passive voice often cause more confusion than they avoid. It is always easier to see your way clear in these cases if you think in terms of naming or hiding the agent. In other words:

Tom kicked the dog.

Here the agent is named. We know who did the kicking.

The dog was kicked.

Here the agent is concealed. We do not know who did the kicking.

The question here is, does it matter who kicked the dog? In this case it probably does, so we should choose a form that names the agent. That form also happens to be active voice, but we can ignore that as a grammatical technicality.

There is a form that names the agent and is also passive voice:

The dog was kicked by Tom.

Which is better between this and the first sentence? This is not something that we should decide based on the first being active and the third passive. Rather, we should decide based on what is most important in the sentence. The first sentence is about Tom; the dog is incidental. The second sentence is about the dog; Tom is incidental. The choice depends on which we are more interested in, the dog or Tom. It is no kind of writing sin to be more interested in the recipient of an action than in its perpetrator.

Now in your case:

We display the values of X in Table 1.

This names the actor ("we"). Is there any purpose to naming the actor here? No. In fact, who else could the actor have been? (Certainly not that dastardly Tom). So naming the actor serves no purpose here. The actor is being named unnecessarily just to make the sentence active voice. And while this does no great harm, there is no reason at all to choose it over the alternative.

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