Use of the First Person in Academic Writing
Early in our school lives, we are encouraged to express our thoughts and opinions. This sometimes leads to a writing style very focused on the first person, with sentences which begin ‘I believe’, ‘I think’, ‘In my opinion’, etc.
There are differing opinions about whether or not first-person pronouns should be used in academic writing . Whatever your position, though, overuse of ‘I’ or ‘my’ is not a good idea, as it can draw focus from the subject under discussion.
When Not to Use the First Person
When writing, there is no need to state that you think something. Asserting it as fact implies that you believe it. For example, take these sentences:
- Henderson’s argument is invalid because…
- I believe Henderson’s argument is invalid because…
These both mean the same thing. Saying ‘I believe’ is unnecessary, as it is clear that you are expressing an opinion without having to signal it explicitly!
The first sentence is also more persuasive, as the second seems like mere opinion. Your argument is not strengthened by writing ‘I think that…’, but rather by providing relevant supporting evidence.
When to Use the First Person
Sometimes the first person is useful for highlighting how your opinion differs from a thinker you are discussing. For example, in summing up, you might say ‘whilst Henderson has stated X, I believe the opposite’.
Unless your university forbids using ‘I’ in essays, you can also use the first person when describing your methods to avoid awkward sentences. For instance, the following sentence is a bit confusing:
It was concluded that the new technique can reduce remission rates.
The question, then, is who made the conclusion? To ensure clarity, the sentence could be written as:
We conclude that the new technique can reduce remission rates.
This eliminates the ambiguity over who is drawing the conclusion, as well as being more impactful by using the active rather than passive voice.
The crucial thing to consider when using the first person in your work is whether it detracts from the focus of your argument. Using ‘I’ or ‘we’ when describing your methodology is generally fine, since it clarifies the role you play in the research process.
But phrases like ‘In my opinion…’ do not add to the clarity of your writing. Instead, they make it seem like your research is more about you than whatever you’re investigating!
Finally, if in any doubt, it is always best to check with your supervisor or style guide before setting to work. Good luck!
[…] person is too informal. This is not a universal rule (e.g. the first person does have a place in academic writing). But it is a good guideline to work […]Reply
Share This Article
Trusted globally by thousands of companies and universities, including: