The first essay we all wrote as a child was most likely, “What I did during summer vacation.” Every sentence included the words ‘I’ or ‘me’. The word ‘I’ was even in the title. Then, at some point, we were informed that writing in the first person was henceforth forbidden in all academic writing, relegated to the beatnik world of poetry. In academia, an author using their own voice was deemed unprofessional. Though there is certain value in this precedent, the use of first person pronouns is, in fact, not off-limits in all academic writing.
Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, more commonly known by college students as ‘Purdue OWL’, addresses the topic on its page Style, Genre, and Writing:
The use of first person point-of-view is usually avoided in academic writing. But, sometimes you are allowed to use it; for example, when you explain your own data or primary resources.
As university students progress through their studies they will be expected to conduct their own research more and more. Hence, the use of first person pronouns becomes an increasingly appropriate choice for their work.
Author L. Finlay emphasizes that first person pronouns are not just acceptable but actually essential for “closing the distance between author and reader,” (qtd. In Zhou and Hall 348). Likewise, authors Zhou and Hall point out that writing in the first person is fitting for qualitative research. They explain that quantitative research does not need a first-person perspective since the numbers speak for themselves, whereas in qualitative research the words of the author and participants are part of the evidence (Zhou and Hall 349).
So take a deep breath the next time your eyes come across ‘I’ and ‘me’ in academic writing. Consider the context and intent of the author. The taboo might be unwarranted.
Purdue Writing Lab. “OWL // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab, owl.purdue.edu/.
Zhou, Xiaodi, and Jori N. Hall. “Mixed Methods Papers in First-Person and Third-Person: Writing Voices in Dialogue.” Journal of Mixed Methods Research, vol. 12, 357. 3, July 2018, pp. 344–357. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType= ip,url,uid&db=eric&AN=EJ1183557&site=eds-live& scope =site.
Contributed by: Anessa Hughes, Writing Center intern