How to Avoid Anthropomorphism in Your Dissertation?

Anthropomorphism can be defined as attributing human characteristics to nonhuman entities, objects, or concepts. It may lead to ambiguity or misleading communication. Therefore, avoiding anthropomorphism in your thesis, dissertation, or article would be best.

04.11.2022

How to Avoid Anthropomorphism in Your Dissertation?

What is anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism can be defined as attributing human characteristics to nonhuman entities, objects, or concepts. It may lead to ambiguity or misleading communication. Therefore, avoiding anthropomorphism in your thesis, dissertation, or article would be best. You can see phrases such as "the results indicate" that, even though these phrases are examples of Anthropomorphism, they are permissible to use because they do not confuse. APA 7th edition accentuates anthropomorphism; you may check Section 4.11 for more information.

Common anthropomorphism examples

You can consider the following anthropomorphism example and suggest better precision and clarity. Please note that the APA style recommends shunning anthropomorphism. However, it also shows that "many acceptable constructions in widespread use do not constitute anthropomorphism because they do not impede understanding or mislead readers" (APA, 2020, p. 117). What follows are some questionable uses and viable revisions.

Questionable usage: The study concluded that increased soft drink consumption contributed to children's inability to perform well in class.

  • This sentence suggests that the study, which is an inanimate object, can conclude.

Viable revision: The study addresses the effect of increased soft drink consumption on children's ability to perform in their classes.

  • This revision employs much more common phrasing in academic writing, "The study addresses." This phrase with the verb "addresses" is acceptable because "address" is not an active verb suiting better human actors.

Viable revision: In this study, I concluded that increased soft drink consumption caused children's inability to perform better in their classes.

  • This revision clearly specifies "I" as the person deducing the conclusions. An increasing trend exists to use the first-person pronoun "I" for clarity in academic English to describe your study.

Acceptable verbs that can be used in theories, research, and results

Theories, results, research, and other perspectives of studies can be the "subject" in a sentence and take specific verbs in common usage without confusing:

  • address

  • contribute

  • find

  • focus on

  • center on

  • indicate

  • present

  • provide

  • show

  • suggest

  • pose

The following examples can be given.

  • The results showed a relationship between the study time and students' TOEFL, SAT, or GRE scores.

  • The table shows the information on the descriptive statistics of this study.

The theory suggests that societies do not differ substantially from ecological systems because various groups play critical roles in the exceedingly more extensive systems. Theories, studies, results, and other aspects of research may be paired with different kinds of actions, and this pairing may need to be clarified. The result is uncertainty in determining who is doing the action. For instance, note the following active verbs in the sentences and decide whether you need any amendments.

  • Obscure phrasing: The theory concluded that the charismatic leadership style poses solemn problems for a country.

  • Improved clarity: The theorists concluded that a country's charismatic leadership style poses solemn problems.

  • Obscure phrasing: The theory determined that society's work does not substantially differ from a biological ecosystem.

  • Improved clarityThanks to their study, sociologists have posed that society works much similar to a biological ecosystem. 

  • Obscure phrasing: The study examined the effect of voting behavior on the country's prosperity.

  • Improved clarity: In the study, I examined the effect of voting behavior on the country's prosperity. 

  • Obscure phrasing: The study investigated the relationship between coffee consumption and attention disorder.

  • Improved clarity: I investigated this study’s relationship between coffee consumption and attention disorder.

Organizations

Organizations can take actions fitting human actors because they include groups of people.

  • Walmart had to recall vegan drumsticks from its shelves.

  • The school board voted against wearing school uniforms.

  • The Society of Professional Journalists issued concerns about what has been happening in Turkey recently.

  • The hospital implemented new guidelines for patient visits.

Nonetheless, try to avoid ascribing actions to organizations when people should understand which specific people within the organization took action.

  • Obscure phrasing: The company is on strike.

  • Improved clarity: The blue-collar workers in the company are on strike.

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Anthropomorphism in dissertations and theses

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