First-person pronouns in academic writing
There are many different perspectives on using first-person pronouns (I, we, our, etc.) in academic writing among various disciplines. While many experts advise using first-person pronouns even in fields of science, there is no consensus.
The lack of an available guideline could complicate your writing process or editing as an editor, as you may wonder which disciplines allow using first-person pronouns or under what circumstances it is acceptable to use them.
When to use first-person pronouns
Example of academic writing with first-person pronouns
Sea level rise poses a substantial threat to low-lying locations, according tostudy on the consequences of climate change on coastal populations. In research, polled people from a tiny island settlement and interviewed local leaders.
When ringing an appropriate tone
When planning a text
When presenting a contrast with other sources
When talking about claims and actions
Controversy and different fields
Even though you can use first-person pronouns in some cases, it is still a controversial issue with various approaches among disciplines. Usually, social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and political science are considered “soft” fields.
In contrast, the sciences like physics, astronomy, and biology are considered “hard” fields, and the acceptability of first-person pronouns varies between the two.
Traditionally, hard fields have been abstaining from using first-person pronouns in order to:
Often, passive voice (e.g. “it is suggested that…”) is used in hard fields to abstain from using the first person. However, there is a rising trend of using the first-person as scientific writers discovered that overuse of passive voice might be causing ambiguity.
First-person pronoun creates clarification among the actors of a sentence with its clearer syntax, which is more beneficial to preserve objectivity and keep the attention in the material. Furthermore, the importance of self-promotion using first-person pronouns has increased since there is a growing competition in academics.
Now that you know first-person pronouns can be found in any discipline, keep in mind that their use is different in every discipline. For instance, collaborative fields might have to use “we,” while others might stick with “I.” You should also consider the material of the field to determine the frequency of first-person pronouns.
A writer’s native language might also determine whether you should use first-person pronouns at all. For example, while using the first person with a native English writer (US & UK English), avoid adding pronouns with a French writer.
Now, let us help you decide whether you should add or avoid first-person pronouns in any given writing.
Differences among disciplines
Determine whether your paper (essay, research paper, etc.) fits into hard or soft fields. Although we established that they no longer completely avoid using first-person pronouns, writers are still inclined to use them less in hard fields than in soft fields. Here is a table of differences between them.
Although we can’t say that disciplines in sciences can never use first-person pronouns, it is clear that there are apparent distinctions between hard and soft fields. So avoid using unnecessary first-person pronouns when editing a discipline from hard fields.
The importance of context
First-person pronouns can help differentiate which argument belongs to whom when an author disagrees with a different source. So, the more references are given to other sources, the more appropriate it is to use them.
ImportantIt is also acceptable to use first-person pronouns more in certain sections, such as the in which you introduce the author’s project.
For example, the methods section of a paper thoroughly presents an experiment and can include first-person pronouns for clear description as well (e.g. “I experimented with 20 participants…”)
Here are some general rules when dealing with pronouns.