What will a professor answer if you ask: Can you say “I” in a research paper? Most professors will answer with a strict no to that question. But is this a one-dimensional issue? Isn’t there more depth to the problem?
You’re also wondering: why can’t I say “I” in a research paper, when I am the one writing it? There’s an interesting discussion around this issue. Most students would prefer more liberty in academic writing, so they can add uniqueness to their papers and express themselves in any way they want. The academic format is too strict and doesn’t allow for such flexibility.
When you’re working on projects that involve creative writing, using I is not a problem. A research paper, however, is more of an analytic and critical thinking paper, so the guidelines are different. In essence, you’re advised against using “I”, we, or you in this type of writing.
The Issue of Using We in a Research Paper: When “Is” This Language Acceptable?
When you’re providing your own point of view, using “I” is the natural form of expression that comes to mind. Let’s take an example: we’ll assume you’re writing a research paper from social studies, focused on children living with alcoholic parents. In the introduction, you’ll be required to explain what this research paper is about.
“In this research paper, I explored the negative influence that alcoholic parents have on the development on their children.”
This seems like the simplest way to describe what your research is focused on. It is an acceptable form of academic writing, but it’s not the style that most academics recommend. This is what the recommended formulation would sound like:
“Research has explored the negative influence that alcoholic parents have on the development on their children.”
Yes, it sounds weird. No, it’s not how you usually talk when communicating with people around you. Yes, it involves some passive language. Still, it’s the recommended form of academic expression.
There are professors who insist that passive language must be avoided as much as possible, so the sentences will be clearer and more readable. Others, however, will insist on avoiding the use of first-person language. There’s a conflict of opinions here, so the best way to figure out how to write your research paper is by asking direct questions to your professor. When you need more detailed instructions, there’s no shame in asking for them.
The Final Answer: Can You Use “I” in Research Paper?
- If your professor or mentor says you should write in the most natural way, then it’s okay to use “I” in your research paper.
- If you’re referring to the reader and yourself, or you were working on the research paper as part of a team, then it’s okay to use “we”, too.
- It’s not OK to use “we” when you’re only referring to yourself.
- If your professor tells you that using “I” is not appropriate in research paper writing, then you should definitely avoid that form of expression. This means you’ll have to rely on passive language, so you’ll avoid first-person writing.
What if you don’t get precise a precise guide for the style of your research paper? Maybe you cannot reach the professor or your email message gets no answer.
In that case, it’s best to stick to the traditional format of research paper writing. What does that mean? – Avoid using “I” and “we”!
Writing Research Paper in a Correct Way.
When someone tells you that you should avoid using first person in academic writing, you probably need more information. The instruction is not enough to convince you that avoidance of “I” is the right way to write a research paper.
There are several factors that go in favor of this point of view:
- In science and academics, the use of I is considered rather arrogant and self-serving. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not focused on yourself as a writer, but on the research as something that serves the reader and the academic community.
- It’s best to avoid personal pronouns when engaged in persuasive writing. Saying I believe is not persuasive enough. Here’s another example: “Based on my findings, I concluded that alcoholic parents have a negative influence over the emotional development of their children”. The more convincing way to formulate that statement would be this one: “Based on the research findings, it may be concluded that alcoholic parents have a negative influence over the emotional development of their children”. You see? It’s important to focus on the research; not on yourself.
- It’s also important to avoid the use of you when writing a research paper, since that form of expression is usually implemented when providing instructions or addressing the reader directly. In a research paper, you’re not doing that.
Need Help to Find Your Academic Writing Style?
All these guidelines seem rather simple, don’t they? You’ll just avoid first and second person, and you’ll write your research paper in a format that’s acceptable for the academic community, right? Wrong!
The third person, as a generally used style in academic writing, can impose some difficulties. You can’t use “he” or “she” in a research paper, since you’re not writing about particular persons. Instead, you’ll use indefinite pronouns to refer to the subject, while avoiding feminine or masculine terminology.
Finally, there are always some exceptions from the rules, and that makes it even harder for you to find the right style. Who said that college or university education was easy?