Friday Fundamentals for Solid Writing Habits: Can I say “I”?

Professionals and Academics must avoid personal references to you or me with suitable language.

When can I refer to myself in my writing? Most of the time, it’s okay, when blogging, when sharing an autobiographical story. Go ahead and be real and all that. However, there are still times when the informality of first person  (I, me, my), or even second person (you, your) will cast a shadow on the inexperienced writer.

Formal language, also called Academic Writing, can be easily maintained.

The Universal We

Instead of saying I or even You, we can stick with the universal We, implying the experience is true of all humans.

  • Problematic:  You should remove your shoes when entering someone’s home.
  • Problematic: I should remove my shoes when entering someone’s home.
  • Solution: We should remove our shoes when entering someone’s home. 

The Direct Claim

Make a statement as if it is fact, and avoid the unnecessary reference to yourself. We know you wrote it, so we understand that it is your belief.

  • Problematic: I think that blue is the preferred color.
  • Problematic: In my opinion, blue is ideal.
  • Solution: Blue is best.

Furthermore, avoid You when the audience is not a singular and known person. If you are not speaking directly to someone you can name, keep it universal and impersonal and make a direct claim.

  • Problematic: You should wash your car, or it will begin to rust.
  • Solution: A person should wash one’s car to avoid rust.
  • Another Solution: People should wash their cars in order to avoid rust.

Avoid personal stories in academic writing, but speak to experiences as though they are a universal truth.

  • Problematic: When my family spent a night in Yellowstone, the bears ate our food.
  • Solution: In Yellowstone National Park, bears are known to eat the campers’ food. 

Take the time to reword informal passages when writing for a professional or academic audience. This standard is still respectively held in most circles.


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