- Tips & Guides
How To Avoid Using “We,” “You,” And “I” in an Essay
- Posted on October 27, 2022 October 27, 2022
Maintaining a formal voice while writing academic essays and papers is essential to sound objective.
One of the main rules of academic or formal writing is to avoid first-person pronouns like “we,” “you,” and “I.” These words pull focus away from the topic and shift it to the speaker – the opposite of your goal.
While it may seem difficult at first, some tricks can help you avoid personal language and keep a professional tone.
Let’s learn how to avoid using “we” in an essay.
What Is a Personal Pronoun?
Pronouns are words used to refer to a noun indirectly. Examples include “he,” “his,” “her,” and “hers.” Any time you refer to a noun – whether a person, object, or animal – without using its name, you use a pronoun.
Personal pronouns are a type of pronoun. A personal pronoun is a pronoun you use whenever you directly refer to the subject of the sentence.
Take the following short paragraph as an example:
“Mr. Smith told the class yesterday to work on our essays. Mr. Smith also said that Mr. Smith lost Mr. Smith’s laptop in the lunchroom.”
The above sentence contains no pronouns at all. There are three places where you would insert a pronoun, but only two where you would put a personal pronoun. See the revised sentence below:
“Mr. Smith told the class yesterday to work on our essays. He also said that he lost his laptop in the lunchroom.”
“He” is a personal pronoun because we are talking directly about Mr. Smith. “His” is not a personal pronoun (it’s a possessive pronoun) because we are not speaking directly about Mr. Smith. Rather, we are talking about Mr. Smith’s laptop.
If later on you talk about Mr. Smith’s laptop, you may say:
“Mr. Smith found it in his car, not the lunchroom!”
In this case, “it” is a personal pronoun because in this point of view we are making a reference to the laptop directly and not as something owned by Mr. Smith.
Why Avoid Personal Pronouns in Essay Writing
We’re teaching you how to avoid using “I” in writing, but why is this necessary? Academic writing aims to focus on a clear topic, sound objective, and paint the writer as a source of authority. Word choice can significantly impact your success in achieving these goals.
Writing that uses personal pronouns can unintentionally shift the reader’s focus onto the writer, pulling their focus away from the topic at hand.
Personal pronouns may also make your work seem less objective.
One of the most challenging parts of essay writing is learning which words to avoid and how to avoid them. Fortunately, following a few simple tricks, you can master the English Language and write like a pro in no time.
Alternatives To Using Personal Pronouns
How to not use “I” in a paper? What are the alternatives? There are many ways to avoid the use of personal pronouns in academic writing. By shifting your word choice and sentence structure, you can keep the overall meaning of your sentences while re-shaping your tone.
Utilize Passive Voice
In conventional writing, students are taught to avoid the passive voice as much as possible, but it can be an excellent way to avoid first-person pronouns in academic writing.
You can use the passive voice to avoid using pronouns. Take this sentence, for example:
“ We used 150 ml of HCl for the experiment.”
Instead of using “we” and the active voice, you can use a passive voice without a pronoun. The sentence above becomes:
“150 ml of HCl were used for the experiment.”
Using the passive voice removes your team from the experiment and makes your work sound more objective.
Take a Third-Person Perspective
Another answer to “how to avoid using ‘we’ in an essay?” is the use of a third-person perspective. Changing the perspective is a good way to take first-person pronouns out of a sentence. A third-person point of view will not use any first-person pronouns because the information is not given from the speaker’s perspective.
A third-person sentence is spoken entirely about the subject where the speaker is outside of the sentence.
Take a look at the sentence below:
“In this article you will learn about formal writing.”
The perspective in that sentence is second person, and it uses the personal pronoun “you.” You can change this sentence to sound more objective by using third-person pronouns:
“In this article the reader will learn about formal writing.”
The use of a third-person point of view makes the second sentence sound more academic and confident. Second-person pronouns, like those used in the first sentence, sound less formal and objective.
Be Specific With Word Choice
You can avoid first-personal pronouns by choosing your words carefully. Often, you may find that you are inserting unnecessary nouns into your work.
Take the following sentence as an example:
“ My research shows the students did poorly on the test.”
In this case, the first-person pronoun ‘my’ can be entirely cut out from the sentence. It then becomes:
“Research shows the students did poorly on the test.”
The second sentence is more succinct and sounds more authoritative without changing the sentence structure.
You should also make sure to watch out for the improper use of adverbs and nouns. Being careful with your word choice regarding nouns, adverbs, verbs, and adjectives can help mitigate your use of personal pronouns.
“They bravely started the French revolution in 1789.”
While this sentence might be fine in a story about the revolution, an essay or academic piece should only focus on the facts. The world ‘bravely’ is a good indicator that you are inserting unnecessary personal pronouns into your work.
We can revise this sentence into:
“The French revolution started in 1789.”
Avoid adverbs (adjectives that describe verbs), and you will find that you avoid personal pronouns by default.
In academic writing, It is crucial to sound objective and focus on the topic. Using personal pronouns pulls the focus away from the subject and makes writing sound subjective.
Hopefully, this article has helped you learn how to avoid using “we” in an essay.
When working on any formal writing assignment, avoid personal pronouns and informal language as much as possible.
While getting the hang of academic writing, you will likely make some mistakes, so revising is vital. Always double-check for personal pronouns, plagiarism , spelling mistakes, and correctly cited pieces.
You can prevent and correct mistakes using a plagiarism checker at any time, completely for free.
Quetext is a platform that helps you with all those tasks. Check out all resources that are available to you today.
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How to Avoid Using Personal Language in Writing
Last Updated: November 29, 2022 References
This article was co-authored by Tristen Bonacci . Tristen Bonacci is a Licensed English Teacher with more than 20 years of experience. Tristen has taught in both the United States and overseas. She specializes in teaching in a secondary education environment and sharing wisdom with others, no matter the environment. Tristen holds a BA in English Literature from The University of Colorado and an MEd from The University of Phoenix. There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 104,924 times.
Learning how to write without using personal language can be tough. It’s especially tricky to find alternatives to clauses such as “I think” or “I will argue,” but don't worry if you're stuck. There are lots of ways to make your point without using personal pronouns. Additionally, you might use slang and other informal expressions without even realizing it. Check your work, and replace casual, subjective words with objective language. With a little practice, you’ll know the rules of formal academic writing like the back of your hand.
Following General Rules
- For example, replace “I think the most important part of your day is having a good breakfast,” with “A nutritious breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet.”
- Slang words and colloquialisms are casual expressions shared by a region or social group, like “photobomb,” “kick the bucket,” or “Bob’s your uncle.” Instead of, "He kicked the bucket in a doozy of a wreck," write, "He was killed in a serious car accident."
- Clichés are overused expressions that have become meaningless or boring, such as “only time will tell” or “cream of the crop.” Alternatives for these phrases could be "remains to be seen" and "the best."
- Examples of contractions include “don’t,” “wouldn’t,” hasn’t,” and “it’s.” Instead of using them, spell out the words in full.
- Additionally, avoid casual estimates, such as “a couple of studies,” “a lot of time,” or “a bunch of research.” Instead, use specific numbers, such as “The team spent 17 days collecting samples.”
- For instance, “An expert witness debunked the defense’s argument” is stronger than “The witness made an extremely convincing testimony that made the defendant look absolutely guilty.”
- Replace "to be" verbs like is", "am", "are", "were", "was", and "will be", with stronger verbs. For example, instead of saying, "The defense's argument was wrong because it was based on speculation" say, "The argument failed because it relied on speculative evidence."
Finding Alternatives to Personal Pronouns
- Compare the examples, “I think the nations’ economic relationship prevented war,” and “The nations’ economic relationship prevented war.” The second example is objective and sounds authoritative.
- Even if the other side presents a strong argument, keep an authoritative tone throughout. While you should acknowledge the other side, avoid using personal pronouns, as this could weaken your stance.
- Consider the sentence, “I strongly disagree with the defense’s attempt to blame the accident on a vehicle defect.” Stronger phrasing could be, “According to expert testimony from the manufacturer, the defense’s claims regarding a vehicle defect had no basis in reality.”
- For the example, “I will argue that market volatility led to the industry’s collapse,” just cut “I will argue that.”
- Tweak the phrasing for the sentence, “I will examine letters and journal entries to show how Charles Baudelaire’s life in Paris influenced his views of modernity.” You could start the sentence with “Examining letters and journal entries will show," and leave out “I will.”
- In passive voice, an action was done by someone or something: "This was done by them." Because of this construction, passive voice tends to be wordy. Active voice is crisper and emphasizes the doer: "They did this."
- Keep in mind that you should write in the active voice whenever possible. Write “Charles Baudelaire described modernity” instead of “Modernity was described by Charles Baudelaire.  X Research source
- Instead of “The painting overwhelms you with texture and color,” write “The painting overwhelms viewers with texture and color.”
- You can also just replace generalizations with tighter wording. Replace “You can see that the claim is false,” with “The claim is false,” or reword it as “The evidence disproves the claim.”
- Include formal generalizations in moderation. Using “one can see” or “one would think” too often will make your writing feel awkward.
Avoiding Informal Expressions
- For example, “The efficiency audit determined that streamlining the application process will generate interest,” refers to a reliable source and states a fact. “The application process is terrible and confusing,” expresses an opinion.
- If you're trying to make an emotional appeal to your audience, it is acceptable to use more emotional language, although you should still avoid using the first person.
- For example, “That guy was a real hater, so his boss gave him the third-degree,” features slang. “The manager reprimanded the cashier for insubordinate behavior,” is more specific and objective.
- Examples of common expressions include “easier said than done,” “sooner or later,” "at the end of the day", and “reached a happy medium.” Alternatives for these expressions could be “more difficult in practice,” “inevitable,” "ultimately", and “compromised.”
- Additionally, ensure your sentences are always complete and unabbreviated. For example, “The performer gave an excellent performance. Not a dry eye in the theater,” is grammatically incorrect and inappropriate for academic writing.  X Research source
- For resume writing, terse, incomplete sentences are actually preferred. Instead of “I reduced purchasing costs by 10%,” write, “Reduced purchasing costs by 10%.”
- Every discipline has its own writing standards. For specific advice about writing standards, check your field’s style guide, such as Chicago, MLA , or APA . ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ Tristen Bonacci. Licensed English Teacher. Expert Interview. 21 December 2021.
- ↑ https://www.adelaide.edu.au/writingcentre/ua/media/21/learningguide-objectivelanguage.pdf
- ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/specificity-in-writing/
- ↑ https://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/style_purpose_strategy/writing_clearly.html
- ↑ https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/academicwriting
- ↑ https://wts.indiana.edu/writing-guides/using-evidence.html
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/should-i-use-i/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/passive-voice/
- ↑ https://www.cs.columbia.edu/~hgs/etc/writing-bugs.html
- ↑ https://facultyweb.ivcc.edu/rrambo/tip_formal_writing_voice.htm
- ↑ https://lnu.se/en/library/Writing-and-referencing/academic-language/
- ↑ https://www.nus.edu.sg/celc/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/chapter03.pdf
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/mechanics/sentence_fragments.html
- ↑ https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/types-of-english-formal-informal-etc/formal-and-informal-language
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How to Write an Essay Without Using I
Kimberley mcgee, 27 jun 2018.
Although it's all about you, it really isn’t if you want to get your point across with good effect. Keeping clear of using the first-person point of view in an important composition, such as an essay, cover letter or thesis can feel like a daunting endeavor. However, there are a few ways to write around the first-person conundrum that can send fledgling essayists over the edge.
Explore this article
- Cardinal Rules
- When to Use the Second Person
1 Cardinal Rules
Why is it such a no-no to interject an “I” or two into your work? If you pepper your paper with first-person references, you make the work appear less objective. The reader is turned off by your constant reference to yourself because it can make you sound biased. Stand on the facts and let them fly while presenting them in the second person. Rely on the names of authors, institutions you’ve worked for and titles of major works to present your case.
In some cases, you may find yourself absolutely stuck with referring to yourself. In that case, you can refer to yourself in the third person, such as “In this writer’s opinion” or “This author concludes” to avoid using the lowly “I” that tears the reader’s attention away from the point. Dump the passive voice for stronger sentence structure. For example, “I gathered the results” is changed to “The results were gathered.”
Often, you can turn the perspective around to avoid using the first person. If you find yourself discussing yourself, return the reader to the subject at hand by saying, “This thesis will reveal” rather than “I will describe in this thesis.”
Be direct in your statements and avoid interjecting your opinion. The information should be strong enough to stand on its own without your opinion supporting it into fact.
2 When to Use the Second Person
It’s not ideal, but there are a few instances in which using second-person references can work to your advantage. Be careful, though, as using the second person “you” gives a more conversational connotation to your piece. This can be welcome in some instances, but it can also throw the reader off your subject and downplay the strength of your work. Alternatives to “you” can be “people,” “one” or “the reader.” This is best used for academic works where the second person “you” may lessen the impact of your work.
Take your time and go through your finished piece to find all references to the first person, including “I,” “me” and “mine.” Rework the sentence with the suggestions above and you'll have a stronger piece overall. Remember to emphasize the experience, event, article or business before interjecting yourself.
- 1 Essay Homework Help: When and How to Write an Essay About Yourself Without Using I
- 2 The Writing Center: Should I use "I"?
About the Author
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.
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How to Replace I in Essays: Alternative 3rd Person Pronouns
How to Replace I in an Essay
Learning how to write an essay without using ‘I’, ‘We’ or ‘You’, and other personal languages can be challenging for students. The best writing skills recommend not to use such pronouns. In this guide, we explore how to replace ‘I’, ‘We’, or ‘You’ in an essay and the methods to avoid them.
For those of us who have been able to overcome this, you will agree that there was a time when you experienced a challenge when finding alternatives to clauses such as “I will argue” or “I think”.
The good thing is that there are several methods of communicating your point, and writing an essay without using ‘I’ or related personal language,.
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Why avoid using Pronouns in formal writing
Before we identify the methods of communicating without using personal language like “I”, it is best to know why we should avoid such language while writing essays.
The most important reason for avoiding such language is because it is not suitable in formal writing such as essays. Appropriate professional English should not include any form of personal pronouns or language.
The second and equally important reason to avoid using personal language while writing an essay is to sound impersonal, functional, and objective.
In formal English, personal pronouns conflict with the idea of being impersonal, functional, and objective because they make redundant references to the writer and other people.
Personal pronouns will make an essay seem to contain only the perspectives of the writer and others they have deliberately selected. Again, they will make the work appear subjective.
Another reason to avoid personal language while coming up with an essay is to avoid sounding as if you have an urgent need to impress the reader through wording.
Personal pronouns like “you” and “I” tend to suggest something important that is away from what the writing is all about.
By continually using “I”, “we”, or “you”, you are taking the reader’s attention from the essay to other personal issues. The essay becomes all about the writer.
That being said, let’s explore how to replace “I” in an essay.
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Ways of avoiding pronouns “i”, “you” and “we” in an essay.
You can replace the pronouns ‘I’, ‘You’, and ‘We’ by replacing them with acceptable wording, applying passive voice instead of pronouns, Using a third-person perspective, adopting an objective language, and including strong verbs and adjectives.
In our other guide, we explained the best practices to avoid using ‘you’ in essay writing , and use academically sound words. Let us explore each of these strategies in detail.
1. Replacing it with an acceptable wording
This is a very good strategy for replacing “I” in an essay. The problem is that it is often difficult to find the right word to replace the personal pronoun. Though this is the case “I” has some alternatives.
For example, if the verb that follows it revolves around writing and research such as “…will present” or “…have described”, it is best to replace “I” with text-referencing nouns such as “the essay.”
If you wanted to say “I will present”, or “I have described”, then the alternative will be “the essay will present”, or “as described in the essay.”
Another method of replacing “I” in an essay is using appropriate wording like “this writer” if the verb’s action is not within the text.
While this is sometimes acceptable, it is often advised to have no words here by using passive verbs or their equivalents.
A wording that may also be used but rarely suitable is “the researcher”. This alternative can only be used when your actions as a writer are completely detached from the writing.
2. Using passive voice instead of pronouns
Another way to replace “I” and other personal pronouns in an essay is to use passive voice. This is achieved by transforming an active verb passive.
Though this is the case, the strategy is often difficult and it may create sentence structures that are not acceptable in formal writing and language.
The sentences in which “I” can be successfully changed using this strategy is when an active verb describing an object is transformed into its passive form.
3. Using a Third-Person Perspective
This is a very important and applicable strategy when replacing “I” in an essay. This is where you avoid using first-person and second-person perspectives.
When referring to the subject matter, refer directly to them using the third person. For example, if you were to write “I think regular exercise is good for mind and body”, you can replace it with “Regular exercise is good for mind and body”.
4. Use of objective language
Objective language is lost when a person uses informal expressions like colloquialisms, slang, contractions, and clichés. It is the reason why we discourage the use of contractions in essay writing so that you can keep things formal.
While informal language can be applicable in casual writing and speeches, it is not acceptable when writing essays. This is because you will be tempted to use a first-person perspective to convey your message.
5. Being specific and using strong verbs and adjectives
In most cases, essays that have been written using a lot of personal pronouns tend to be imprecise. When you want to avoid using “I” in your essay, try to be exact and straight to the point.
Personal pronouns tend to convey a subjective message and it is up to the writer to explain their perspectives through writing.
Here, a writer will use a lot of “I think…” or “I believe…” to express their opinion. By doing so, the writer will end up wasting a lot of time explaining a concept.
Instead of doing that, it is best to look for appropriate verbs and adjectives to explain the points. Also, use objective language. Refer to the suggestions given by credible evidence instead of basing your arguments on what you think.
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Words to use instead of personal pronouns like “You” and “I”
As noted, it is important to avoid using personal pronouns such as “You” and “I” when writing an essay.
By eliminating them or finding alternatives to them, your essay will be formal and objective. You can decide to eliminate them in a sentence.
For example, you could be having a sentence like “I think the author makes a valid point concerning capitalism.”
In this example, you can eliminate the personal language and write “The author makes a valid point concerning capitalism”.
The second sentence goes straight to the point and is objective.
Other words to use instead of personal pronouns like “You” and “I” can be created when personal judgment words are avoided.
Instead, it is best to replace those words with those that refer to the evidence.
Examples of Ways to Replace personal pronouns
Below are examples of how personal judgment words can be replaced by words referring to the evidence.
- I feel – In light of the evidence
- From I think – According to the findings
- I agree – It is evident from the data that
- I am convinced – Considering the results
- You can see that – From the results, it is evident that
Using the third-person or “it” constructions can be used to replace personal pronouns like “You” and “I”. Such words also help to reduce the word count of your essay and make it short and precise.
For example, if you are writing “I conclude that”, replace those words with “it could be concluded that”. Here, “it” constructions are helping replace personal pronouns to make the sentence more objective and precise.
To be more specific, words to replace personal pronouns like “I” include “one”, the viewer”, “the author”, “the reader”, “readers”, or something similar.
However, avoid overusing those words because your essay will seem stiff and awkward. For example, if you write “I can perceive the plot’s confusion”, you can replace “I” by writing “Readers can perceive the plot’s confusion”.
Words that can be used instead of personal pronouns like “You” include “one”, “the viewer”, the reader”, “readers”, or any other similar phrases. It is similar to words that replace first-person pronouns.
For example, if you write “you can see that the poet’s tone is serious and urgent”, you can replace “You” by writing “readers/one can see that the poet’s tone is serious and urgent”.
Words to use instead of “My” in an essay
Since “My” demonstrates the possessiveness of something, in this case, the contents or thoughts within an essay, it makes the writing subjective. According to experts, writing should take an objective language . To do this, it is important to replace it.
You can replace the word “My” with “the”. For example, if you write “My final thoughts concerning the issue are”, you can write “The final thoughts concerning the issues are”.
In this case, the article “The” makes the sentence formal and objective.
Another method is to eliminate the word “My” from the sentence to make it more objective and straight to the point.
In the same example above, if you write “My final thoughts concerning the issue are”, you can write “Final thoughts concerning the issue are”.
The major difference here is that the word “my” in the first example makes it subjective and eliminating it from the sentence makes it sound formal and objective.
Therefore, when writing an essay, it is important to avoid personal pronouns like “You”, “I” and “My.” Not all papers use third-person language. Different types of essays are formatted differently, a 5-paragraph essay is different from a 4-page paper , but all use third-person tones.
This is because an essay should be written in formal language and using personal pronouns makes it appear and sound informal. Therefore, writing an essay without using ‘I’ is good.
Formal language makes your essay sound objective and precise. However, do not remove the first person language when writing personal experiences in an essay or a paper. This is because it is acceptable and formal that way.
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Should I Use “I”?
What this handout is about.
This handout is about determining when to use first person pronouns (“I”, “we,” “me,” “us,” “my,” and “our”) and personal experience in academic writing. “First person” and “personal experience” might sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but first person and personal experience can work in very different ways in your writing. You might choose to use “I” but not make any reference to your individual experiences in a particular paper. Or you might include a brief description of an experience that could help illustrate a point you’re making without ever using the word “I.” So whether or not you should use first person and personal experience are really two separate questions, both of which this handout addresses. It also offers some alternatives if you decide that either “I” or personal experience isn’t appropriate for your project. If you’ve decided that you do want to use one of them, this handout offers some ideas about how to do so effectively, because in many cases using one or the other might strengthen your 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.
- Don’t begin a sentence with “and” or “because.”
- Never include personal opinion.
- Never use “I” in essays.
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 directly), many instructors in all kinds of fields are finding reason to depart from these rules. Avoiding “I” can lead to awkwardness and vagueness, whereas using it in your writing can improve style and clarity. 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. The rest of this handout is devoted to strategies for figuring out when to use “I” and personal experience.
Effective uses of “I”:
In many cases, using the first person pronoun can improve your writing, by offering the following benefits:
- Assertiveness: In some cases you might wish to emphasize agency (who is doing what), as 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.
- Clarity: 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 some projects, you need to explain how your research or ideas build on or depart from the work of others, in which case you’ll need to say “I,” “we,” “my,” or “our”; if you wish to claim some kind of authority on the topic, first person may help you do so.
Deciding whether “I” will help your style
Here is an example of how using the first person can make the writing clearer and more assertive:
In studying American popular culture of the 1980s, 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 1980s, we explored the degree to which materialism characterized the cultural milieu.
The original example sounds less emphatic and direct than the revised version; using “I” allows the writers to avoid the convoluted construction of the original and clarifies who did what.
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.
In the original example, using the first person grounds the experience heavily in the writer’s subjective, individual perspective, but the writer’s purpose is to describe a phenomenon that is in fact objective or independent of that perspective. Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.
Here’s another example in which an alternative to first person works better:
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 of the original example refreshing, they are probably rare. The revised version sounds more academic and renders the statement more assertive and direct.
Here’s a final example:
I think that Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases, or at least it seems that way to me.
Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases.
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.
Determining whether to use “I” according to the conventions of the academic field
Which fields allow “I”?
The rules for this are changing, so it’s always best to ask your instructor if you’re not sure about using first person. But here are some general guidelines.
Sciences: In the past, scientific writers avoided the use of “I” because scientists often view the first person as interfering with the impression of objectivity and impersonality they are seeking to create. 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. Check with your science instructor to find out whether it’s o.k. to use “I” in his/her class.
Social Sciences: Some social scientists try to avoid “I” for the same reasons that other scientists do. But first person is becoming more commonly accepted, especially when the writer is describing his/her project or perspective.
Humanities: Ask your instructor whether you should use “I.” The purpose of writing in the humanities is generally to offer your own analysis of language, ideas, or a work of art. Writers in these fields tend to value assertiveness and to emphasize agency (who’s doing what), so the first person is often—but not always—appropriate. Sometimes writers use the first person in a less effective way, preceding an assertion with “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe” as if such a phrase could replace a real defense of an argument. 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.
Other writing situations: If you’re writing a speech, use of the first and even the second person (“you”) is generally encouraged because these personal pronouns can create a desirable sense of connection between speaker and listener and can contribute to the sense that the speaker is sincere and involved in the issue. If you’re writing a resume, though, avoid the first person; describe your experience, education, and skills without using a personal pronoun (for example, under “Experience” you might write “Volunteered as a peer counselor”).
A note on the second person “you”:
In situations where your intention is to sound conversational and friendly because it suits your purpose, as it does in this handout intended to offer helpful advice, or in a letter or speech, “you” might help to create just the sense of familiarity you’re after. But in most academic writing situations, “you” sounds overly conversational, as for instance in a claim like “when you read the poem ‘The Wasteland,’ you feel a sense of emptiness.” In this case, the “you” sounds overly conversational. The statement would read better as “The poem ‘The Wasteland’ creates a sense of emptiness.” Academic writers almost always use alternatives to the second person pronoun, such as “one,” “the reader,” or “people.”
Personal experience in academic writing
The question of whether personal experience has a place in academic writing depends on context and purpose. In papers that seek to analyze an objective principle or data as in science papers, or in papers for a field that explicitly tries to minimize the effect of the researcher’s presence such as anthropology, personal experience would probably distract from your purpose. 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.
It’s also usually best to keep your real or hypothetical stories brief, but they can strengthen arguments in need of concrete illustrations or even just a little more vitality.
Here are some examples of effective ways to incorporate personal experience in academic writing:
- Anecdotes: In some cases, brief examples of experiences you’ve had or witnessed may serve as useful illustrations of a point you’re arguing or a theory you’re evaluating. 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:
Philosophy: In philosophical writing, your purpose is generally to reconstruct or evaluate an existing argument, and/or to generate your own. Sometimes, doing this effectively may involve offering a hypothetical example or an illustration. In these cases, you might find that inventing or recounting a scenario that you’ve experienced or witnessed could help demonstrate your point. 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. (See our handout on writing in philosophy for more information.)
Religion: 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. So although you probably have very strong beliefs or powerful experiences in this area that might motivate your interest in the field, they shouldn’t supplant scholarly analysis. 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.)
Literature, Music, Fine Arts, and Film: Writing projects in these fields can sometimes benefit from the inclusion of personal experience, as long as it isn’t tangential. For instance, your annoyance over your roommate’s habits might not add much to an analysis of “Citizen Kane.” However, if you’re writing about Ridley Scott’s treatment of relationships between women in the movie “Thelma and Louise,” some reference your own observations about these relationships might be relevant if it adds to your analysis of the 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 fiction , art history , and drama for more information.)
Women’s Studies: Women’s Studies classes tend to be taught from a feminist perspective, a perspective which is generally interested in the ways in which individuals experience gender roles. So personal experience can often serve as evidence for your analytical and argumentative papers in this field. 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.
History: If you’re analyzing a historical period or issue, personal experience is less likely to advance your purpose of objectivity. However, some kinds of historical scholarship do involve the exploration of personal histories. So although you might not be referencing your own experience, you might very well be discussing other people’s experiences as illustrations of their historical contexts. (See our handout on writing in history for more information.)
Sciences: 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. Of course, if you’re working in the social sciences, case studies—accounts of the personal experiences of other people—are a crucial part of your scholarship. (See our handout on writing in the sciences for more information.)
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Advanced Grammar and Vocabulary in Academic & Professional English
46. how to avoid ‘i’, ‘we’ and ‘you’.
“I”, “we” and “you” can be difficult to avoid if a passive verb is not possible
THE IMPORTANCE OF AVOIDING ‘I’, ‘WE’ AND ‘YOU’
The words I, we and you (and equivalent forms like me, my, mine, us and yours ) are frequently said to be unsuitable in formal writing. Indeed, the absence of these words, along with various others, is often part of the very definition of this sort of writing (see 166. Appropriacy in Professional English ).
The perceived need to avoid words like I, we and you in academic and professional writing also suggests something important about what this kind of writing is not . Academic and professional writers do not try to use impressive wording for its own sake; they only resort to it in order to avoid an undesirable alternative. The over-riding aim, as in most types of writing, is to write as clearly and simply as possible.
The deeper reason that is usually given for avoiding I, we or you in formal English is a need to sound impersonal, objective and functional. These words are felt to conflict with that because they make unnecessary references to particular people. They are suitable only when they stand for some types of I, we or you , such as the writer of a CV or the addressee of an advice leaflet (see 187. Advising and Recommending ).
In order to avoid I, we and you , it is necessary to know what substitute language can replace them. This is the same kind of problem as that presented by paraphrasing (see 80. How to Paraphrase ). In both cases the solution will often be obvious, but sometimes difficult to see. This discussion concentrates on the difficulty that replacing I, we and you can give when they are the subject of a sentence. For some advice on how to replace them in other sentence positions, see 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision?” .
For information in this blog about other words to avoid in formal writing, see especially 108. Formal and Informal Words , plus the Learning Materials page under the heading Words to Avoid in Academic Writing . Clicking on “Formal Style” in the CATEGORIES menu on the right of this page will bring up other relevant posts, including the diagnostic 193. A Test of Formal Language Use .
PROBLEMS IN AVOIDING INFORMAL SUBJECT PRONOUNS
One strategy that is sometimes possible for avoiding an unwanted subject pronoun is replacing it with a more acceptable word. The problem is finding the right one.
I has a small number of alternatives. If its verb is a writing one, such as will describe… or have presented… , then a text-referring noun like this essay or the previous section can replace I . On the other hand, if the verb’s action is outside the text this writer is sometimes possible, though having no word at all through use of a passive verb or equivalent, as outlined below, is usually best. One expression that is very rarely appropriate is the researcher .
Alternatives to we and you also exist in some contexts. We and you meaning “anyone” might be be replaceable by one, someone or people (see 211. General Words for People ). You meaning “the reader” can often become the reader or readers .
The pronoun-avoiding strategy that many English courses concentrate on is making the verb passive. Yet in surprisingly many cases this strategy is not possible. The following sentences (except the first) illustrate a range of situations that rule it out.
(a) I will describe three main categories.
(b) I was affected in three different ways.
(c) I proceeded (a little later).
(d) I became a group member.
(e) I want first to provide some background.
(f) I enjoyed sampling the product.
(g) I know that the problem is not solved.
(h) I contend that reading helps grammar learning.
The reason why only (a) can avoid I by means of a standard verb change from active to passive ( Three main categories will be described ) is that only it possesses the requirements for such a change: an active verb ( will describe ) with an object ( categories − for details of objects, see 8. Object-Dropping Errors ).
In sentence (b), a change from active to passive is not possible because the verb with I is already passive ( was affected ). In the others, although the verb with I is active, there is no object. Sentence (c) has an active verb with nothing at all after it, or just the adverb phrase a little later . In (d), there is a noun after the verb ( group member ), but it is a complement rather than an object (it refers to the subject). The other sentences all have another verb after the one with I . In (e) this verb is in the infinitive form ( to provide ), in (f) it has -ing , while in (g) and (h) it is in an ordinary statement after that .
Yet all of these problem structures can be altered so as to avoid the undesirable I . Even sentence (a) can be altered without using a passive verb: instead of will be described it could have a different verb in the active voice, such as follow (see 27. How to Avoid Passive Verbs ) or there are (see 161. Special Uses of “There” Sentences ). The rest of this post is about structural changes for avoiding unwanted pronouns in sentences like (b)–(h).
OTHER WAYS TO AVOID UNWANTED PRONOUNS
1. when the verb is already passive or lacks an object.
In this situation – sentences (b) and (c) above – the most useful strategy appears to be to change the verb into a related noun (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns , #3 ). Here are sentences (b) and (c) after this change (with the relevant nouns underlined):
(b1) Three different effects were felt.
(c1) The procedure was performed (a little later).
Finding a related noun (or a synonym of one) is not so difficult (see 249. Action Noun Endings ); a greater challenge is often finding the verb to go with it, especially since some appropriate verbs are quite idiomatic partners of the chosen noun (see 173. “Do Research” or “Make Research”?) . For further examples of this way to avoid informal pronouns, see 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”? .
If the subject of the sentence lacks the (as in b1) there + BE is often another possibility ( There were three… ). For more, see 161. Special Uses of “There” Sentences ).
2. When the Verb Has a Complement
A complement is a noun, pronoun or adjective that is matched by a verb to an earlier noun or pronoun (see 220. Features of Complements ). For example, in (d) above the complement a group member matches I – they are the same person. Complements can often be recognised from the verbs they follow: BECOME, BE and a few others. In addition to (d) above, the following all contain a complement:
(i) I became uncomfortable .
(j) I felt proud .
(k) I was a supervisor .
These sentences can be paraphrased without I like this:
(d1) Group membership was taken up.
(i1) Discomfort was felt/There was discomfort.
(j1) (A feeling of) pride was experienced.
(k1) A supervisory position was held.
Generalizing from these is difficult, but the main tendency seems to be to make the complement into the subject of the new sentence, rather as we do with objects. Adjective complements ( uncomfortable, proud ) become related nouns ( discomfort, pride ), whereas noun complements ( a group member, a supervisor ) often need to be slightly changed (in these examples the meaning of “status” or “position” or “role” needs to be added).
3. When the Verb Has another Verb Soon After
A very useful avoidance strategy here is to begin with it and a form of BE . Compare the following with the original sentences above:
(e1) It is necessary first TO PROVIDE some background.
(f1) It was enjoyable SAMPL ING / TO SAMPLE the product.
(g1) It is recognised that the problem IS not SOLVED.
(h1) It can be contended that reading HELPS grammar learning.
The second verb in such sentences (capitalised) sometimes has to , sometimes -ing and sometimes that… (see 103. Representing a Later Statement with “It” ). B efore to or -ing , an alternative to an I verb – I want and I enjoyed in (e) and (f) above – is often it is/was + the I verb’s related adjective: necessary and enjoyable in (e1) and (f1).
Before that… , however, a passive verb often seems the best choice after a starting it , though one could instead use BE + a “truth” adjective like acceptable, arguable, certain, clear, (in)correct, definite, likely, possible, probable and (un)true . Truth adjectives are especially useful for agreeing or disagreeing without saying I (dis)agree (see 152. Agreeing and Disagreeing in Formal Contexts ).
Using a passive verb after it in order to avoid I sometimes necessitates is , as in (g1), and sometimes can be , as in (h1). Using can be when is is needed is likely to sound strange; using is when can be is needed gives the wrong meaning: not “by me” but either “by everyone” (see 22. Multiple Speakers in a Text ) or “by me elsewhere” (a common use in abstracts, which report content rather than develop it).
How can one know whether to use is or can be when avoiding I with a non-reporting passive verb? The choice seems to depend on the partner verb. RECOGNISE is a thought verb, CONTEND a speech one. Other thought verbs that, like RECOGNISE, usually have is to mean “by me” include BELIEVE, CONSIDER, DEEM, EXPECT, FEEL, HOLD, HOPE and KNOW. An exception is THINK – is thought is always reporting (and cannot have can be instead of is ).
Speech verbs that, like CONTEND, need can be to develop a point without using I commonly express particular types of meaning. Some resemble CONTEND (e.g. ARGUE, CONSIDER , MAINTAIN, CLAIM), some are naming (CALL, DUB, NAME, REFER TO), some are exemplifying (EXEMPLIFY, ILLUSTRATE), some are classifying (CATEGORISE, CLASSIFY, DIVIDE, SEPARATE, SPLIT), and one (DEFINE) is defining (see 237. Auxiliary Verbs in Professional Communication , #4).
Many sentences that allow it can also be written with there + BE + NOUN (see 161. Special Uses of “There” Sentences , #4). This is certainly true of sentences (e1), (f1) and (g1), which could respectively begin There is a need…, There was enjoyment… and There is recognition… . Note how a need is preferred to a necessity . The negative There is no need to… is also common.
Sentences like (h1) could also begin there is an argument… , though this is probably more often used for reporting a contention than simply making one.
25 thoughts on “ 46. how to avoid ‘i’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ ”.
I would say ‘it must be accepted…’
Do you know how you could replace we in this sentence: Although the consequences of death are unknown, we all must accept it when it truly comes.
Hi Isabela. Your sentence is a fairly straightforward one to rephrase because it contains an active verb with an object (“accept it”). Just make the object “it” into the subject and put the verb “accept” into the passive voice : “It must be accepted by us all…”. “We” becomes “us” here because it has had a preposition (“by”) placed before it.
How do I replace my partner and I in a formal essay?
Thanks for your question. One possibility might be “this writer and her (or his) partner”. There may be other solutions too, involving the surrounding words.
Hi, I am writing an essay and I have this sentence “When we are in pursuit of a goal, we do not know if we will succeed until we do.” and i do not know how to make it formal.
Yes, I see your problem! I would say “When a goal is pursued, there is no certainty it will be achieved until it is”. The first “we” is avoided by making “goal” the subject of a passive verb. The second is avoided with “there is” + noun so as to get around the inability of “know” to be passive. The third “we” also has a verb that cannot be passive (“succeed”), the problem being solved by paraphrasing with a verb that does have a passive use (“be achieved”). This passive is then repeated with “is” where you had “do”.
Hi Paul, I am working on the answer letter for the reviewers’ comments. I start my answers with “Thank you for your comments”, which Grammarly does not like. It says personal pronouns are not acceptable in formal writing. How can I replace this sentence? Thanks!
Hi Miklos. Thanks for your question. I myself would be quite happy writing “Thank you” in the situation you describe, assuming the letter is addressed to the author of the comments, and not an editor who has relayed them. A weakness of style-check software is that it tends not to take account of all possible contexts of use! However, a suitable alternative does exist. You could write “I am grateful for the comments provided” or, if you wish to avoid “I”, “the offered comments are much appreciated”.
Thank you so much. The explanation is excellent! I am trying to improve my English and academic English. This article helps me a lot in writing
Do you know how I could change “We can use…”, I’m making an essay on the importance of telling details and I often say “We can use telling details to…” and I was wondering if you knew a way around this. (Thanks for this great article btw)
Thanks for your feedback and question. You could use “one” instead of “we”, or start with “it” (“It is possible to use…”) or, best of all, say “Telling details is useful for… -ing”.
how to replace “we will try to understand “ to a formal language?
Thanks for highlighting this aspect that hasn’t been covered by the suggestions above. I would say “An effort / attempt will be made to understand”. This uses an “action” noun (different in appearance but not meaning from “try”) + MAKE – a structure considered in detail in this blog in 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”? .
Third person The report argues/indicted/suggests It was found that It could be said When these issues are considered, it is clear that…..
AVOID using personal judgement words2 USE words referring to the evidence I think An examination of the findings indicates I feel In light of the evidence, I believe Previous research identifies/suggests I am convinced that Considering the results, I disliked According to the figures, I liked As shown in the diagram, I agree It is evident from the data that I disagree The literature suggests I am sure that Given this information, It is my belief that Some theorists argue that
Thanks for these relevant observations. Would you care to explain them a little more?
The lists provided are examples and alternatives to using the first person I formal writing such as academic essays. The thread responds to questions concerning this but doesn’t give alternative examples, hence this list.
what can I replace I with?
If I understand you rightly, you want an expression that could replace “I” in the way “one” can replace “you”, usable as an alternative to avoiding “I” in one of the ways suggested above. I think there are some possibilities, but I would recommend trying to achieve avoidance first. One replacement that I would definitely not recommend is “the researcher” – a favourite of some particular students I was once the tutor of. I always found that their use of it sounded inappropriate. Sometimes you see “this writer”. The one that I like best, though, is “this research” (or “essay” or “report” or whatever) – in other words giving these inanimate things the role of “I”.
“If there’s even one culture that you’d like to understand better, or even one person in your life you’d like to know better, then one of the best ways you can start is by learning to speak their language “. How can I me this impersonal ? I always find it difficult to avoid the use of the pronoun “you” and I don’t know what to replace it with. Can you please help me ?
Hi. I must apologise for having given an earlier answer to this question that suggested I misunderstood it. I think you want me to rephrase the text you have quoted so that it does not have “you”. I agree it’s a difficult one. In such situations, I often find that the best solution is to use “one” instead of “you”. I would suggest: “If there’s even a single culture that one would like to understand better, or even a single person in life that one would like to know better, then one of the best ways to start is by learning to speak their language”. I have used “a single” here in order not to use “one” too much.
If the intention is to maintain the original wording of the sentence, I frankly don’t see a solution to your problem. The trick is not to replace the you’s, but to eliminate them. Recasting the sentence is an option that will eliminate wordiness into the bargain. I might suggest something like, “In order to understand foreign cultures or people better, then one of the best ways is to learn their language.”
Thanks, Mark. Your contribution makes me realise I originally misread Wasnae’s comment, so I offer apologies to all if my earlier response sounded unhelpful. The response I should have given is that the use of “you” illustrated by Wasnae (“you’d like to understand better”) is an example of the situation described in the post as “when the verb with ‘I’ has another verb soon after” (the two verbs being “would like” and “to understand”). If you use the avoidance strategy I recommend for such combinations (a sentence starting with “it”), you get “If there is even one culture, or even one person in your life, that IT IS DESIRABLE to understand better, then one of the best ways TO START is by learning to speak their language”. I’m not saying this is better than the suggested alternative, only that it offers a specific means of recasting for those who cannot see one.
Hi Max. Thanks for your kind feedback and interesting question. I should indeed have said something in this post about job applications. I need to say that using “I” is actually alright in job applications, since you, the writer, are very much the focus of the text. However, for talking about work experience in a curriculum vitae, it is quite common to find sentences that simply leave out “I” and begin with the verb (e.g. “Handled telephone enquiries”). More about this is in the post 93. Good and Bad Lists .
Hi Paul Can you please put more examples regarding to this topic. For non natives English speakers avoiding I when writing a cover letter for job application. So if you can put up more explanation and examples would be great deal of help. Thanks!
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