1st & 2nd Person Pronouns in (out of!) Academic Writing

I’m bringing (my) blogging back!

To kick off this new round of blogs, I have prepared a series of short blogs aimed at students who engage in academic writing. In all, the series will constitute a kind of primer on academic writing for students. Each post will tackle a problem I’ve seen in papers from my classmates, my students, and myself.

If you are having trouble writing strong papers for your classes, then read on!

*   *   *

The first topic I have selected is on the use of 1st person and 2nd person personal pronouns in academic writing. These are words like “we,” “you,” and “I.” It is my understanding that there are also others.


In academic writing, your goal is to sound objective and convince your audience of your hypothesis with the strength of your evidence and argument. You will not accomplish this if you write papers like you write blogs (!) or sermons.

This is a common mistake, but if you are not sure how to go about writing papers in light of this information, I’m here to help!

The academy’s preferred, “objective,” voice sounds something like the following, when referring to the second person. “One would do well to consider how to write academic papers. If one were to ignore practices such as these, worse grades will become reality.” Referring to “one” rather than “you” is far more objective, and always sounds better in academic writing.

When you want to refer to yourself, the author, there is a simple tip I can give you. Don’t.

It will not help your paper. If you absolutely must refer to yourself because, let’s face it, your ego is as big as mine, then refer to yourself as “the author of this paper” or “this author.” There could be a problem with this approach, as some students have tried to use it and wound up confusing the professor regarding the author to whom the student refers. Do you mean the most recently-referenced source? Or do you mean yourself? If you use this approach, be very clear.

That’s all for this week’s Tips from a Tutor. Come back next week for more paper-writing help.


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