Use of first person in formal writing
Expectations about academic writing Students often arrive at college with strict lists of writing rules in mind. Often these are rather strict lists of absolutes, including rules both stated and unstated: Each essay should have exactly five paragraphs. We get these ideas primarily from teachers and other students. 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.
So when it suits your purpose as a scholar, you will probably need to break some of the old rules, particularly the rules that prohibit first person pronouns and personal experience. Although there are certainly some instructors who think that these rules should be followed so it is a good idea to ask directlymany instructors in all kinds of fields are finding reason to depart from these rules. Using personal experience, when relevant, can add concreteness and even authority to writing that might otherwise be vague and impersonal.
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. In many cases, using the first person pronoun can improve your writing, by offering the following benefits: In some cases you might wish to emphasize agency who is doing whatas for instance if you need to point out how valuable your particular project is to an academic discipline or to claim your unique perspective or argument.
Because trying to avoid the first person can lead to awkward constructions and vagueness, using the first person can improve your writing style. Positioning yourself in the essay: In studying American popular culture of the s, the question of to what degree materialism was a major characteristic of the cultural milieu was explored. Better example using first person: In our study of American popular culture of the s, we explored the degree to which materialism characterized the cultural milieu.
Here is an example in which alternatives to the first person would be more appropriate: As I observed the communication styles of first-year Carolina women, I noticed frequent use of non-verbal cues. A study of the communication styles of first-year Carolina women revealed frequent use of non-verbal cues. Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.
As I was reading this study of medieval village life, I noticed that social class tended to be clearly defined. This study of medieval village life reveals that social class tended to be clearly defined. Although you may run across instructors who find the casual style click the following article the original example refreshing, they are probably rare. The revised version sounds more academic and renders the statement more assertive and direct.
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. But here are some general guidelines. But conventions seem to be changing in some cases—for instance, when a scientific writer is describing a project she is working on or positioning that project within the existing research on the topic.
While your audience is generally interested in your perspective in the humanities fields, readers do expect you to fully argue, support, and illustrate your assertions. Personal belief or opinion is generally not sufficient in itself; you will need evidence of some kind to convince your reader. But sometimes you might need to explicitly situate your position as researcher in relation to your subject of study. Or if your purpose is to present your individual response to a work of art, to offer examples of how an idea or theory might apply to life, or to use experience as evidence or a demonstration of an abstract principle, personal experience might have a legitimate role to play in your academic writing.
Using personal experience effectively usually means keeping it in the service of your argument, as opposed to letting it become an end in itself or take over the paper.
They can be used to make your work less complicated and less repetitive. But this doesn't mean we must be completely avoided. Avoid colloquialism and slang expressions. While the writer might use formal diction in such sentences, too many short and simple sentences can make an essay sound informal, as if the writer is not recognizing that the audience is capable of reading and understanding more complex and longer sentences. Example I think that this character is confused. The use of first person point-of-view is usually avoided in academic writing. As Smith and Jones and Drew noted, there is no correlation between television viewing time and calorie intake.
Here are some examples of effective ways to incorporate personal experience in academic writing: For instance, in philosophical arguments, writers often use a real or hypothetical situation to illustrate abstract ideas and principles. References to your own experience can explain your interest in an issue or even help to establish your authority on a topic.
Some specific writing situations, such as application essays, explicitly call for discussion of personal experience. Here are some suggestions about including personal experience in writing for specific fields: Sometimes, doing this effectively may involve offering a hypothetical example or an illustration. Personal experience can play a very useful role in your philosophy papers, as long as you always explain to the reader how the experience is related to your argument.
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See our handout on writing in philosophy for more information. Religion courses might seem like a place where personal experience would be welcomed. But most religion courses take a cultural, historical, or textual approach, and these generally require objectivity and impersonality.
- Sometimes, it can be difficult to take out first-person writing altogether.
- I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.
- Educated people have several different writing and speaking voices, and one voice is no more "genuine" than another.
But ask your instructor, as it is possible that he or she is interested in your personal experiences with religion, especially in less formal assignments such as response papers. See our handout on writing in religious studies for more information.
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Literature, Music, Fine Arts, and Film: Personal experience can be especially appropriate in a response paper, or in any kind of assignment that asks about your experience of the work as a reader or viewer. Some film and literature scholars are interested in how a film or literary text is received by different audiences, so a discussion of how a particular viewer or reader experiences or identifies with the piece would probably be appropriate.
See our handouts on writing about fictionart historyand drama for more information. So use of first person in formal writing experience can often serve as evidence for your analytical and argumentative papers in this field.
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This field is also one in which you might be asked to keep a journal, a kind of writing that requires you to apply theoretical concepts to your experiences. However, some kinds of historical scholarship do involve the exploration of personal histories. See our handout on writing in history for more information. Because the primary purpose is to study data and fixed principles in an objective way, personal experience is less likely to have a place in this kind of writing.
Often, as in a lab report, your goal is to describe observations in such a way that a reader could duplicate the experiment, so the less extra information, the better. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout just click print and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.