Yes, you can write an essay in first person. A personal essay requires you to use pronouns such as I, me, and my. However, you shouldn’t use first-person in your academic writing if your tutor specifically discouraged the use of these words.
When Should You Use First Person in Academic Writing?
1. Attempting to position yourself in the writing
In some of your writing projects, you’ll need to describe how your conducted research or presented thoughts to build on or differ with the work of others, in which case you’ll use “I,” “we,” “my,” or “our.” In that case, if your aim is to claim authority on the subject, first person such as referring to your experience as a doctor or engineer may help you do so.
2. Instructions from your teacher
Teachers, in my experience, normally urge their learners to avoid using the pronouns “I” or “me” (or “we,” “us,” “my,” and “our”) because they are frequently misused. Other “rules” that can apply to other rules are not even true. For instance, some teachers discourage using preposition at the end of a sentence. Other want learners to never start a sentence with the words “And,” “But,” or “Because.”
These aren’t hard and fast rules.
Rather, they are strategic pieces of advice that some teachers could convert into “laws” because students, well, need guidance (or at least many teachers think they do).
While none of these rules should be followed universally, they do offer students with a framework that, in many cases, aids in the production of well-written essays.
3. When writing a speech
Speech writing is part of academic writing. When writing a speech, using first person is usually encouraged because it allows the writer/speaker to establish a sense of connection with the listener. This, in turn, makes the speech sincere and captivating.
For resumes, you need to avoid first person. For examples, under “Experience,” you could write something like this: ‘volunteered as a child psychologist.’ Resumes do not use “I” or other first person styles of writing.
Some other examples of when personal experiences can be incorporated in academic writing:
- Anecdotes. In some circumstances, quick descriptions of experiences you’ve had or experienced might help illustrate a point you’re making or a theory you’re debating. For example, writers frequently utilize a real or hypothetical incident to demonstrate abstract ideas and principles in philosophical arguments.
- Personal interests. Referring to individual passions can assist explain why you’re interested in a topic or even establish some degree of authority on it.
- Admission essays. Some writing contexts, such as application essays for colleges and universities, explicitly demand for personal experience to be discussed.
How Do You Determine Whether to Use “I” Based on Academic Guidelines?
1. The field of study
Which areas of study allow you to use the word “I”?
Because the laws for using first person are never rigid, it’s always better to check with your instructor if you’re unsure. However, there are certain common standards to follow.
Scientists have always avoided using the first person because they believe it interferes with the sense of impartiality and impersonality they are attempting to convey. However, in certain circumstances, standards appear to be evolving, such as when a scientific writer describes a project she is working on or situates that endeavor within previous research on the issue.
Check with your scientific teacher to see if using the pronoun “I” is acceptable in his or her class.
The same logic scientists use to avoid using “I” applies here too. However, first person is becoming increasingly popular, especially when an author is describing his or her own idea or point of view.
In the humanities, check with your instructor to see if you should use the pronoun “I.” The goal of humanities writing is to provide your own interpretation of language, ideas, or a work of art. Assertiveness is valued in many disciplines, and agency (who is doing what) is emphasized, therefore the first person is often—but not always—appropriate.
When authors decide to use the first person in a less effective approach, they might say things like “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe,” as if the phrase might stand in for a meaningful defense of an argument.
Readers expect you to completely defend, support, and illustrate your arguments, even if they are typically interested in your position in the humanities subjects.
Personal belief or opinion is rarely enough to persuade a reader; you’ll need evidence of some sort to persuade them.
A short note about the second person pronoun “you”:
When your goal is to appear conversational and friendly because it suits your aim, as it is in this handout designed to offer helpful information, or in a letter or speech, using the word “you” can help you achieve exactly that. However, “you” sounds unduly conversational in most academic writing settings, as in an assertion like “when reading the poem ‘The Wasteland,’ you get a sense of emptiness.” The word “you” sounds extremely conversational in this context. “The poem ‘The Wasteland’ generates a sensation of emptiness,” the sentence should read.
Alternatives to the second person pronoun, such as “one,” “the reader,” or “people,” are virtually usually used in academic writing.
What about Using “I” for Personal Experiences In Academic Writing?
Whether or not personal experience is required in academic writing is a question that relies on the context and goal. Personal experience will likely detract from your purpose, particularly in writings that seek to study an objective concept or data, such as science articles, or in papers for a discipline that specifically tries to minimize researcher’s opinion and presence, such as anthropology studies. However, you may need to explicitly contextualize your role as a researcher in connection to your research topic at times.
If your goal is to show your own reaction to a work of art, provide examples of how a concept or theory may be used in real life, or use personal experience as proof or a demonstration of an abstract principle, personal experience may have a place in your academic writing.
When you use personal experience effectively, you should keep it in service of your argument rather than allowing it to become an end in itself or take over the paper.
It’s also preferable to keep your real or hypothetical anecdotes short, but they can help enhance arguments that need solid examples or just a little more explanations to drive home.