First Person Academic Essay Writers

First vs. third person

Pronouns are a set of words that replace nouns. They can be used to make your work less complicated and less repetitive. Examples of pronouns include:

  • First person: I, we, me, us
  • Second person: you
  • Third person: he, she, it, they, him, her, them

For some assignments, it is appropriate to use the first person. However, for other assignments the third person is preferred. Sometimes a mixture of the first and third person should be used for different purposes. So, check your assignment guidelines for each assignment, as it will differ for different assignment types, different style guides, and different disciplines. If you are unsure, then check with your course coordinator.

First person preference

The first person can be used to make writing more concise when providing personal reflection, stating a position, or outlining the structure of an assignment.

Some disciplines/lecturers allow or encourage the use of first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.). The use of the first person is also recommended/allowed in some style guides. For example, in the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (6th ed.) it is recommended that authors use the first person to avoid ambiguity and anthropomorphism.

How to use the first person

The following examples illustrate some ways you can use the first person in your writing.

Example 1: Structuring an essay

In this essay, I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

The essay will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviour.

Example 2: Describing research you conducted

I found that...

We informed participants that...

The authors informed participants that...

Example 3: Describing research you conducted

We compared...

Our comparison of...

The table compared...

Avoiding subjectivity using the first person

Academic training requires students to support the claims they make by providing solid arguments and/or evidence. So, even when the first person is used in academic writing it can, and usually should, still sound objective.

How to sound objective using the first person when making a claim or stating an argument

The following examples illustrate ways to use the first person in your writing while sounding objective (i.e. making it clear that you are not just expressing an unsupported personal view and that you are concerned about facts and/or reasons rather than being influenced by personal feelings or biases).

I will argue that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

I think that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

I feel that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

The evidence I presented above indicates that paying benefits to high school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

In my opinion, paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

I believe that paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

I have presented reasons why educationalists need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

As a teacher, I believe teachers need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

How to use the first person in reflective writing

Reflective writing relies on personal experience, so it is necessary to use the first person.

The following examples illustrate some ways to use the first person in Reflective writing.

I found this experience positive...

I witnessed...

I succeeded in...

I achieved my goal...

I could have reacted differently in this situation...

Third person preference

Some disciplines/lecturers discourage the use of the first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.) and prefer the use of the third person because it makes writing sound objective.

How to avoid the first person

The following examples illustrate ways to write without using the first person.

Example 1: Structuring the essay

How gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours will be examined.

Careful examination of gender and ethnicity factors shows how these affect buying behaviour.

In this essay, I will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

Example 2: Making a claim or stating an argument

Assisting developing countries to grow crops such as tobacco and opium poppies is not in their best long-term interests.

I think that assisting developing countries to grow crops such as tobacco and opium poppies is not in their best long-term interests.

Example 3: Making a claim or stating an argument

Paying benefits to high school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

In my opinion, paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

Example 4: Making a claim or stating an argument

Educationalists need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

As a teacher, I believe teachers need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

Example 5: Describing research you conducted

It was found that...

Participants in this study were informed that...

We informed participants that...

I found that...

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Last updated on 3 May, 2017

Research writers frequently wonder whether the first person can be used in academic and scientific writing. In truth, for generations, we’ve been discouraged from using “I” and “we” in academic writing simply due to old habits. That’s right—there’s no reason why you can’t use these words! In fact, the academic community used first-person pronouns until the 1920s, when the third person and passive-voice constructions (that is, “boring” writing) were adopted. Recently, however, we’ve shifted back to producing active and engaging prose that incorporates the first person.

However, the use of “I” and “we” still has some generally accepted rules we ought to follow. For example, the first person is more likely used in the abstract, introduction, discussion, and conclusion sections of an academic paper while the third person and passive constructions are found in the methods and results sections.

In this article, we discuss when you should avoid personal pronouns and when they may enhance your writing.

 

It’s Okay to Use First-Person Pronouns to:

  • clarify meaning by eliminating passive voice constructions;
  • establish authority and credibility (e.g. assert ethos, the Aristotelian rhetorical term referring to the personal character);
  • express interest in a subject matter (typically found in rapid correspondence);
  • establish personal connections with readers, particularly regarding anecdotal or hypothetical situations (common in philosophy, religion and similar fields, particularly to explore how certain concepts might impact personal life. Additionally, artistic disciplines may also encourage personal perspectives more than other subjects);
  • to emphasize or distinguish your perspective while discussing existing literature; and
  • to create a conversational tone (rare in academic writing).

The First Person Should Be Avoided When:

  • doing so would remove objectivity and give the impression that results or observations are unique to your perspective;
  • you wish to maintain an objective tone that would suggest your study minimized biases as best as possible; and
  • expressing your thoughts generally (phrases like “I think” are unnecessary because any statement that isn’t cited should be yours).

Usage Examples

The following examples compare the impact of using and avoiding first-person pronouns.

Example 1 (First Person Preferred):

To understand the effects of global warming on coastal regions, changes in sea levels, storm surge occurrences and precipitation amounts were examined.

[Note: When a long phrase acts as the subject of a passive-voice construction, the sentence becomes difficult to digest. Additionally, since the author(s) conducted the research, it would be clearer to specifically mention them when discussing the focus of a project.]

We examined changes in sea levels, storm surge occurrences, and precipitation amounts to understand how global warming impacts coastal regions.

[Note: When describing the focus of a research project, many authors often replace "we" with phrases such as "this study" or "this paper." "We," however, is acceptable in this context, including for scientific disciplines. In fact, recent papers published in Nature, for example, use "we" to establish an active voice. Be careful when using "this study" or "this paper" with verbs that clearly couldn't have performed the action. For example, "we attempt to demonstrate" works, but "the study attempts to demonstrate" does not; the study is not a person.]

Example 2 (First Person Discouraged):

From the various data points we have received, we observed that higher frequencies of runoffs from heavy rainfall have occurred in coastal regions where temperatures have increased by at least 0.9°C.

[Note: Introducing personal pronouns when discussing results raises questions regarding the reproducibility of a study. However, mathematics fields generally tolerate phrases such as "in X example, we see..."]

Coastal regions with temperature increases averaging more than 0.9°C experienced higher frequencies of runoffs from heavy rainfall.

[Note: We removed the passive voice and maintained objectivity and assertiveness by specifically identifying the cause-and-effect elements as the actor and recipient of the main action verb. Additionally, in this version, the results appear independent of any person's perspective.] 

Example 3 (First Person Preferred):

In contrast to the study by Jones et al. (2001), which suggests that milk consumption is safe for adults, the Miller study (2005) revealed the potential hazards of ingesting milk. The authors confirm this latter finding.

[Note: "Authors" in the last sentence above is unclear. Does the term refer to Jones et al., Miller, or the authors of the current paper?]

In contrast to the study by Jones et al. (2001), which suggests that milk consumption is safe for adults, the Miller study (2005) revealed the potential hazards of ingesting milk. We confirm this latter finding.

[Note: By using "we," this sentence clarifies the actor and emphasizes the significance of the recent findings reported in this paper. Indeed, "I" and "we" are acceptable in most scientific fields to compare an author's works with other researchers' publications. The APA encourages using personal pronouns for this context. The social sciences broaden this scope to allow discussion of personal perspectives, irrespective of comparisons to other literature.]

Other Tips about Using Personal Pronouns

  1. Avoid starting a sentence with personal pronouns. The beginning of a sentence is a noticeable position that draws readers’ attention. Thus, using personal pronouns as the first one or two words of a sentence will draw unnecessary attention to them (unless, of course, that was your intent).
  2. Be careful how you define “we.” It should only refer to the authors and never the audience unless your intention is to write a conversational piece rather than a scholarly document! After all, the readers were not involved in analyzing or formulating the conclusions presented in your paper (although, we note that the point of your paper is to persuade readers to reach the same conclusions you did). While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, if you do want to use “we” to refer to a larger class of people, clearly define the term “we” in the sentence. For example, “As researchers, we frequently question…”
  3. The first person is becoming more acceptable under Modern English usage standards; however, the second-person pronoun “you” is still generally unacceptable because it is too casual for academic writing.
  4. Take all of the above notes with a grain of salt. That is, double-check your journal or institution’s author guidelines. Some organizations may prohibit the use of personal pronouns.
  5. As an extra tip, before submission, you should always read through the most recent issues of a journal to get a better sense of the editors’ preferred writing styles and conventions.

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