Personal Academic Writing

In many cases, using the first person pronoun can improve your writing, by offering the following benefits: The original example sounds less emphatic and direct than the revised version; using “I” allows the writers to avoid the convoluted construction of the original and clarifies who did what.

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Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.

Here’s another example in which an alternative to first person works better: Original example: Although you may run across instructors who find the casual style of the original example refreshing, they are probably rare.

But first person is becoming more commonly accepted, especially when the writer is describing his/her project or perspective.

Humanities: Ask your instructor whether you should use “I.” The purpose of writing in the humanities is generally to offer your own analysis of language, ideas, or a work of art.

Often these ideas are derived from good advice but have been turned into unnecessarily strict rules in our minds.

The problem is that overly strict rules about writing can prevent us, as writers, from being flexible enough to learn to adapt to the writing styles of different fields, ranging from the sciences to the humanities, and different kinds of writing projects, ranging from reviews to research.

The revised version sounds more academic and renders the statement more assertive and direct.

Here’s a final example: Original example: In this example, there is no real need to announce that that statement about Aristotle is your thought; this is your paper, so readers will assume that the ideas in it are yours. The rules for this are changing, so it’s always best to ask your instructor if you’re not sure about using first person. Sciences: In the past, scientific writers avoided the use of “I” because scientists often view the first person as interfering with the impression of objectivity and impersonality they are seeking to create.

Because college writing situations vary widely in terms of stylistic conventions, tone, audience, and purpose, the trick is deciphering the conventions of your writing context and determining how your purpose and audience affect the way you write.

The rest of this handout is devoted to strategies for figuring out when to use “I” and personal experience.

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