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Avoiding the personal pronoun 'I'

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The convention in much academic writing is to write with minimal reference to yourself as an author. The reason for this lies in a tradition of needing to present your work "objectively", as the work of a dispassionate and disinterested (that is, unbiased) researcher. So, one of the features of academic writing is a general absence of the first person pronoun "I". This can be difficult, as lecturers often say, "tell me what you think". Well, they do want to know what you think, but presented as a rational, objective argument. For this reason we also avoid using emotive language; instead we let the "facts" - or our reasoned argument - make the point for us.

It is important to note that while the avoidance of "I" has long been part of the academic tradition, these days some academics consider its use to be acceptable. So, you may encounter different views about the use of "I" over the course of your degree. In any case, you will need to develop the flexibility in your writing to play down the "personal element". Your lecturer, Cathi Lewis, for example, has stated that she prefers undergraduates to avoid the use of "I" in Introduction to Sociology (See the Lecturer's Advice section of this tutorial). Regardless of your particular lecturer's views, you will need to learn how to use "I" sparingly. So let's look at how we can write passages without reference to the first person pronoun.

There are several ways to avoid using the first person pronoun "I":

One way is to let the assignment "speak for itself": for example,

"I show..." becomes "The report shows..."



"I interpret the results as..." becomes "The results indicate..."

Another way to avoid the first person is to use the passive voice construction:

Instead of write
"We administered the questionnaire..."

(active voice)
"The questionnaire was administered..."

(passive voice)
"I surveyed the literature"

(active voice)
"The literature was surveyed"

(passive voice)
"I took a sample..."

(active voice)
"A sample was taken"

(passive voice)

NOTE: for further help with using the passive voice, go to the passives tutorial in the Grammar section of this Website.

Question 1

Read the following extract from a student' s research paper on the media and the representation of women's sport:

It is comments like these that the ASC and Womensport seek to minimize and I endeavoured to investigate further in my own research. In my study after collecting the newspapers between the 9th - 23rd September, I went through and added the total number of sport articles there were that male, female and both genders featured in. I then divided up my sample period into two weeks, Period 1 being the 9 th - 16th and Period 2 being 17-23rd. The results for both these periods were tallied and can be found in Figure 2.

How could you rewrite this passage to avoid using "I"?

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One possible rewrite of this passage is:

It is comments like these that the ASC and Womensport seek to minimize and this was investigated further in the research for this paper. In this study, newspapers were collected between the 9th - 23rd September, and the total number of sport articles featuring male, female and both genders were counted. The sample period was then divided up into two weeks, Period 1 being the 9th - 16th and Period 2 being 17-23rd . The results for both these periods were tallied and can be found in Figure 2.

Note how a change to the passive voice (e.g. "this was investigated", "newspapers were collected", and "articles were counted") makes the passage sound less personal and more focused on the information content.


Question 2

Read the following passage from a student's essay on the media and gender:

Television shows and advertisements do not only stick to traditional stereotypes, but also focus on renewing gender roles and images within society (Courtney, 1983: 24). In the following essay, I will briefly look at television as a social communicator and then look at the ways its programmes and commercials construct and reinforce gender stereotypes.

How could you rewrite this passage to avoid using "I"?

See the rewritten passage

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One possible rewrite of this passage is:

Television shows and advertisements do not only stick to traditional stereotypes, but also focus on renewing gender roles and images within society (Courtney, 1983: 24). The following essay will briefly look at television as a social communicator and then look at the ways its programmes and commercials construct and reinforce gender stereotypes.

Note how a change to the third person ("this essay will...") shifts the focus from the author to the work iself.

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