Why Can't You Use the First Person in Academic Papers? | Teen Ink

Why Can't You Use the First Person in Academic Papers?

December 13, 2018
By Psychokitty60 BRONZE, Lynnwood, Washington
Psychokitty60 BRONZE, Lynnwood, Washington
1 article 0 photos 2 comments

So how come you aren't allowed to use first person in academic papers? It seems dumb doesn’t it? Well it is and that is what I am going to prove in this essay.

So what is the real reason that you aren't allowed to use first person in an academic paper? Well I asked one of my teachers about this and did some of my own research and the answer is just as stupid as you might think. It is all about presenting your argument. An academic paper is supposed to be in a formal tone and using the first person is often seen as informal. A source I found gave some examples of this. They said which would be better to persuade you: “Based on my results, I concluded that A and B did not equal to C” or “Based on the results of the assay, A and B did not equal to C”. (assay is something about the quality of metal or ore and that seemed weird to put here so I assume they made a spelling mistake, good one.) Well if you are like me then you would have read those and gone “it doesn’t make a flipping difference” and you would be correct. Why do I care in what way they said it? Either way I get the same information, and assuming it wasn’t a completely failed paper I would have gotten the research they were basing the results on and would be able to make my own interpretation. I mean that is still what that person concluded from the evidence, I could look at it and get something entirely different. Hence it would be MY conclusion.

I mean academic and research papers are just opinion pieces anyways. Just awhile ago the junior class of my school was asked to write an essay on if Andrew Carnegie was a hero or not. Well for this case you would not be allowed to use first person. Besides the fact it was all opinion. I did the research and looked at all the facts to come to my conclusion, I said that he wasn’t. But what if someone looked at the exact same sources (which we all did) and came to a different conclusion (which we did)? Shouldn’t that show it was all opinions and points of view? Which would mean that it wasn’t all fact and it was, in part, my opinion  meaning that I could use “I” in my paper. Well apparently not. I mean if research papers are just opinionated papers with something to back it up, the idea of it being different from an opinion piece gets blown right out of the water. There will never be a research paper done without someones bias as a contributing factor.

I think the idea that it has to be formal is just dumb all around. For example what if a presidential candidate dropped an F-bomb in the middle of a speech to add emphasis on something? That would be considered informal and probably not look good for them, right? Well who actually cares? What if the thing they were saying was really smart and made a lot of sense? Would you be so blinded by the fact they said the F-word that you wouldn’t want to listen to what they were saying? I don’t think so. I mean sure it might be a surprise but I don’t think it takes away from what they are saying as a whole. So if formality doesn’t matter in that situation it shouldn’t matter in any other.

My teacher was the one that told me that when written in the third person you could differentiate fact from opinion, but I have been writing in first person this entire time and I am pretty sure that you can tell what is a fact and what is opinion. For example the fact that you can’t use first person in these types of writing, and the opinion that, that is really stupid. As long as someone isn’t a complete failure at writing and you aren’t a complete failure at reading then I don’t think we will have any problems.

What about the fact that this isn’t a rule in college? So you would think that if something is a rule in high school it would be a rule in college, but you’d be wrong apparently. Several sources that I found state that it actually is acceptable, one source even stated “for generations we've been discouraged from using I and We in academic writing simply due to old habits” “there's no reason you can’t use these words”. Although it does say that it is generally used for things we talked about earlier, such as stating “this is the conclusion that I found”. You would think for all the ways the school tries to pretend that they are preparing us for college, this is something that they might try and update their policy on.

Something else that I was told is that you aren’t supposed to use first person in scientific writing, well apparently that REALLY isn’t true. In the book How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, the authors say using first person in scientific writing is actually helpful. Otherwise you can create inaccurate or false statements such as: “It was found” vs “I found” and when writing in science it is important to write clearly what you are trying to get across, as it may be important to the reader. Even super renown scientists have used first person in their papers, like Einstein and many others that you probably haven't heard of anyways found in the book The Craft of Scientific Writing. And the author of the book The Science Editor’s Soapbox explains how using I in a scientific paper shows who did the thinking, the research, and the writing. This way the reader knows who did what.

At this point it would be stupid to continue teaching people not to use the first person when writing, especially considering it is widely thought to be dumb not to outside of high school, even necessary in some cases. Oh well I guess that is just another generations education wasted.


Writing Commons-Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When is It Okay?

Enago academy-We vs. They: Using the First & Third Person In Research Papers

Editage Insights-Is it acceptable to use first person pronouns in scientific writing?

Wordvice-Can I use First-Person Pronouns in a Research Paper? Yes!


How to write and Publish a Scientific Paper

The Craft of Science Writing

The Science Editor’s Soapbox

The author's comments:

I decided to write this because I got marked down on an essay for using "I" in one of my paragraphs. I knew this was a rule but hadn't realised I had done it when I was writing. After getting marked down I asked my teacher why it wasn't allowed, his answer was essentially so that you could distinguish fact from opinion. I thought that was pretty dumb and that you could tell regardless how you wrote it, so I wrote this essay about it figuring that I would print it out and post it all over the school (which I still will do), but I also realised I wanted to reach out to more people. So after looking around for a good place to publish it I settled here.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Mar. 11 2019 at 3:43 pm
JAGO0578 SILVER, Tirana, Other
5 articles 0 photos 7 comments
This sounds like your teacher hurt your feelings because you did something you weren't supposed to and now your trying to start something.