Skip to main content

Can I use 'I' in my paper?

The use of the third person is normally preferable because it makes your writing seem more assertive and have the semblance of objectivity. Though stating a personal conclusion with 'I' does not have to be avoided, absolutely.

Avoid overtly subjective and uncritical statements

You should try to avoid sounding too subjective in your writing; 'I' is often used in poor writing to express subjective opinions or feelings rather than considered statements. In a critical paper there is no space for your personal feeling. You should, therefore, avoid using phrases such as 'I feel', 'I love the section in which', 'for me, this section seems to be the most important', 'I like X's perspective the most'.

Be direct - just make the statement

Don't hide your argument behind the 'I' in your writing. Often students use phrases such as 'I will argue', 'as I stated earlier' and 'we have been discussing' which can clog up the paper and take up words which could have been used to push the argument forward in a more assertive fashion.

Effective Uses of "I":

There are situations in which 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. This is only effective, however, if you use it sparingly.

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 paper: 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"; and if you wish to claim some kind of authority on the topic, first person may help you do so.

→An instances in which using the first person would help avoid problems with clarity and assertiveness:

In studying the comparative advantage of different agricultural products, the question of to what degree various crops were suitable to the Syrian context was explored.

Better: In our study of the comparative advantage of different agricultural products, we explored the degree to which various crops were suitable to the Syrian context

The original 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.

→Instances in which alternatives to the first person would be more appropriate:

As I observed the migratory patterns of rural people in Syria, I noticed a tendency towards risk-avoidance.

Better: A study of reasons for migration amongst rural people in Syria, revealed a tendency towards risk-avoidance.

In the original, 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.

As I was reading this study of citrus fruit exports, I noticed that transport routes were clearly defined.

Better: This study citrus fruit exports revealed the clear definition of transport routes.

The revised version avoids the casualness which makes the original seem less academic. This second version renders the statement more assertive and direct.

I think that the the Syria-EU-AA will be signed depending on the development of the political situation.

Better: The Syria-EU-AA will be signed depending on the development of the political situation..

There is no real need to announce that what follows is your thought; you can just go ahead and make the claim assertively and let the fact that it's your paper clear up the issue.