Published on July 2, 2020

In her paper “‘Here We Show’: Teaching Engineering Students to Reason with an Audience,” to be delivered at ProComm 2020, Dr. Suzanne Lane argues that learning to use first-person discourse alongside with active voice is an important step in becoming an engineer. 

Although the use of first person and active voice in science and engineering discourses has increased over the past few decades, Lane points out that students (engineers in training) still favour the passive, seeing it as more objective or as a preferred mode for STEM writing. 

In her paper, however, she points out that various verb forms that are associated with first person discourses are essential to scientific practice. Performatives – which are actions carried out simply by being spoken –  such as “hypothesize,” “propose,” or “claim,” she argues, are key to scientific reasoning. Similarly, causative verbs, such as “lead” or “cause,” demonstrate specific relationships important to scientific discovery. 

Lane also demonstrates the important functions of the “I” or “we” in written texts, which serve to represent the authorial voice in scientific acts for particular rhetorical effects, helping to mediate the relationship between the author(s) and their audience. In some cases, this is to build authority; in others, ownership or even community. 

Lane’s paper describes four particular patterns in first person, active voice speech that play an important part in scientific discourse. Because these verb forms reveal scientific and engineering thinking and reasoning, and build a narrative, she also argues that learning how to deploy these verb forms can help you advance not only as writers, but also as engineers. 

Listen to her paper on July 20th, 2020 at our virtual ProComm2020 for more on how learning to use these verb forms and the first person can improve both your writing and your engineering. 

Suzanne Lane is Senior Lecturer in Rhetoric and Communication, and Director of the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) program. Her research interests focus on contemporary rhetoric, genre theory, and argumentation studies, and she is particularly interested in sites of cultural contact between discourse communities and rhetorical cultures.