“I” as a subject in academic writing

Mild Seven

Member
Koeran
I have no idea of the difference between two different styles of academic writing:

1. The aim of this article is twofold. First, this article seeks to solve a puzzle ...
2. In this article, my aim is twofold. First, I seek to solve a puzzle ...

Is there any subtle differences between the two? Does the first one is more formal than the second?
 
  • Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I think you will find a variety of opinions about this question.
    At one time there was an absolute rule like "Never use the first-person singular ('I') in academic writing."
    I think the reason for this rule was to remind the academic writer that he/she is not writing a personal letter to an acquaintance.
    The academic reader doesn't know you, and doesn't care what your opinion is unless you support it with facts.
    But your sentence #2 is not about an opinion—it serves the purpose of helping the reader to anticipate what the article is about,
    and I see nothing wrong with it. I think #1 is unnecessarily formal.
    (But you don't know me, and so you shouldn't care what my opinions are!:))
    I can tell you that neither the MLA Handbook nor the Chicago Manual of Style mentions "I" or "first-person" in their indexes
    (in other words, both of these authorities fail to answer your question).
     

    Pauline Meryle

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Certainly the first-person singular is usually frowned upon in academic writing.

    This can lead to use (some might say "over-use") of what could be termed the "academic we". Although this may be seen as pretentious by some, it is also a way for the writer to acknowledge the input of others involved in his/her research, even if no other author(s) is/are mentioned.
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    I believe that some thesis/dissertation supervisors encourage candidates to:

    --- use the first person ("I") when they are describing exactly what they did in their empirical research (eg "I interviewed thirty teachers and asked them about sources of stress in their work.")

    --- avoid the first person when describing the literature search and discussion of published theories etc.

    e.g. I read Tolstoy's "War and Peace" but I think Jackman's translation was inferior to Smithson's because I could not... :thumbsdown:


    I think it's likely that the advice would vary a great deal not only from one institution to another, but also from one subject field to another (eg qualitative social research done by an individual using case-study methods, in contrast to quantitative/statistical, or pure science research).
     
    Last edited:

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    You might note that avoiding the first person is not correctly solved by making certain other entities into a persons.

    In your example 1., 'this article seeks' might be questioned since articles do not seek. Dogs do, and maybe computer programs, while running, do, but articles don't, actually.

    You might also note that 'third person' is a common solution in very formal contexts. "The author seeks...."

    I have no idea of the difference between two different styles of academic writing:

    1. The aim of this article is twofold. First, this article seeks to solve a puzzle ...
    2. In this article, my aim is twofold. First, I seek to solve a puzzle ...

    Is there any subtle differences between the two? Does the first one is more formal than the second?
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    "The author seeks...."
    I have been advised against using "the author" as a substitute for "I", because it can be ambiguous as to which author you are talking about.
    "...as described by Schmedley in his recent book. The author seeks..."
    To me, the issue is not the pronoun "I", but rather how it is used.
    I would advise against referring to yourself, whether directly or indirectly, for the purpose of asking the reader to believe what you say simply because of who you are.
    But I think there is nothing wrong with referring to yourself (and "I" is the most honest way) in your role as the one who controls the structure of the article.
    "In Section 3 I will show..."
    (By the way, I also recommend confident language like "I will show", rather than "I seek to show" or "I will try to show".)
     
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