On the long list of things in academic writing that make me cringe is – of course – the use of active form, incorrect use of insufficient biographies, and frivolous acknowledgements.
I’m currently reviewing a paper for a journal, which brings forth in spades another linguistic detail that should (and, easily can) be avoided. I am, of course, not going to reveal which paper or which journal – that would go agains the code-of-ethics for reviewing academic papers (which, sadly, not all publication houses respect), so I hit up my favorite search engine for a public example, and the first result was from this paper (which I haste to say is otherwise interesting):
This section focuses on another aspect of Pastry’s routing performance, namely its properties with respect to locality. We will show that the route chosen for a message is likely to be “good” with respect to the proximity metric…
The next example is from this paper (which I didn’t actually read beyond the abstract):
Abstract – This paper focuses on performance investigation of reactive and proactive MANET routing protocols, namely AODV, DSR, TORA and OLSR
Emphasis is, in both cases, mine. “Focuses on something” means “to give of attention to” that something – and choosing to do so (or not) is an act that requires awareness, and the ability to make a choice.
Thus, the authors of a paper, or of a section, can chose – in their study, or in their writing – to focus on something specific. I don’t suspect (even with the hypothesis of development of universal AI) that “sentience” is going to be an attribute associated with a section in a paper: it simply reports what the authors have written – which, of course, will be reflective of what the authors have focused on.
It’s an easy rephrasing to avoid ascribing sentience to sections and papers – for example:
This section presents a study of another aspect of Pastry’s routing performance, namely its properties with respect to locality. It will also show that the route chosen for a message is likely to be “good” with respect to the proximity metric…
Abstract – This paper reports the result of a performance investigation of reactive and proactive MANET routing protocols, namely AODV, DSR, TORA and OLSR
As I have written before, while I do try to instil these writing habits into my own students, and endeavour to respect them in papers to (co-) author, I am an engineer…so, I “play the ball, not the (wo)man”: when reviewing a paper and recommending acceptance or publication, I focus on only the scientific content.