Opinions on the tone of my dissertation, please.

No, don’t worry, i’m not going to ask you to read the thing. :slight_smile:

We’ve been given the marking scheme for our dissertation. To get top marks, we need to have a piece of work that is or approaches publishable quality (i’m a psychology student, so publishable quality in this case means in a peer-reviewed journal). The problem is, a lot of the published studies i’ve read don’t have a simple “cold” just-the-facts-ma’am approach; when reviewing previous research and the study in question they sometimes have a more informal tone.

And informally toned writing is what I prefer and am good at. I don’t mean chatty, but a bit more personable than what I would call a more formal style.

Should my dissertation be totally dispassionate, or should it have some level of informality? Where, in your opinion, would the line be crossed between “engaging” and “flippant”?

I’ve just handed my dissertation in for Computer Science. We also have a similar marking scheme, where publishable material is awarded more. I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t mean “publishable as-is”, rather that it contains publishable results from which a paper could be extracted.

Write it in an informal tone in the third person, i.e. “we took this approach because…”.


Yeah, it’ll definetly be third person. And I think you’re right in saying it’s not publishable-as-is (at least, I hope not. There’s pressure for you!).

I would suggest asking the person who will mark it. Different tutors prefer different things. For example, while Dominic Mulligan has suggested "we took this approach because…"in my dissertation it would have lost me marks. I would write it “This approach was taken because…”

IME, the things that really count in scientific writing are: 1) The quality of your experimental design, methods, and data collected; 2) The quality of the logic and background knowlege used in drawing conclusions from that data; and 3) Clarity in items 1) and 2). If I were you, I’d go for making your writing as understandable as possible, avoiding uneccessary jargon. Get to the point clearly and concisely, without sacrificing thoroughness, and the tone of your work will take care of itself.