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Lesson 35: Cut Out the "I"

You already know about 1st-person writing. It's the type of writing that is written from the "I" point of view, like your narrative.

First person writing is great for all sorts of things, but it is frowned upon in academic writing. In a scholarly essay, you are supposed to keep the "I" out of it.

Of course, you are not exactly writing a scholarly essay; what you are writing is more of a travel piece, and travel writers often do use "I" to tell you about their experiences. But this essay is a formal paper, in a way. You are certainly citing your sources in a scholarly way. So let's stick to the rules of scholarly writing.

Leave the "I" out of it.

Don't Cite Personal Experience

This rule often presents a problem to students who have visited a country and want to use their personal experiences as "evidence." Unfortunatley, citing your personal experience is tricky, because it really isn't allowed under the rules of MLA. Your experience doesn't count as "evidence" except in certain circumstances. (For example, if you wrote a book or published a research paper—you can cite those things as evidence). There are, however, ways to get around this rule.

For example, imagine that you visited France with your family, and your impression of the country was that the streets are very clean. So you want to use this piece of evidence in your essay. What you can't write is this:

When I went to France I noticed that the streets are very clean.

What you can do, however, is this:

Go home tonight and ask your father: "Hey Dad, do you remember that time we went to France? Do you remember how clean the streets were?" Then have a nice conversation with your Dad about how clean the streets in France are.

Now, you can write:

Second, the streets in France are very clean. In fact, according to Robert Jones, a tourist who visited France in 2015, the streets in France are cleaner than in most any other country he has visited (Jones).

In this case, what you've done is acceptable, because, instead of citing your personal experience, you have cited Robert Jones (who is, of course, your father). And in your Works Cited page, you are going to cite the "interview" that you had with your father. The proper way to cite an interview in a Works Cited page is this:

This may seem like a lot of trouble in order to avoid using the pronoun "I", but rules are rules. And "I" does not belong in a scholarly research paper.

Don't write phrases such as "I believe . . ."

The personal pronoun "I" often creeps into student papers when they write phrases like:

The best way to deal with these phrases is simply to cut them out.

The truth is that phrases such as "I believe" and "I think" are frowned upon in academic writing, because they are considered weak. After all, if you are trying to prove that the food in the cafeteria is unhealthy, which sounds more convincing?

Be strong. Be confident. Get rid of the phrases such as "I believe" and "I think".




Be circumspect when using the pronoun “you.” Is it really necessary? If not, leave it out. Study the following example.

Weak: “As you can see, the illegal drug trade has affected the earth in a terrible way.”

Better: “The illegal drug trade has affected the earth in a terrible way.”


Weak: “In my opinion, nuclear energy is dangerous.”

Stronger: “Nuclear energy is dangerous.”


Is the pronoun "We" really necessary?

The use of the pronoun "we" can also cause problems.

Some columnists do it all the time, with sentences such as "We need a great president like Lincoln today."

Of course, the reader of the column understands that "we" refers to America or Americans.

However, in a formal academic paper, you should really be writing for an international audience. Therefore, it would be better to say: "The United States would benefit from a president like Lincoln today."

The use of "we" is sometimes a judgement call. If it results in a cleaner, smoother sentence, go ahead and use it. But if you can rewrite the sentence without using "we", and the resulting sentence is equally pleasing, then it's best to leave it out.


Lesson Steps


Reread your paper. Take out any reference to yourself.


Do you refer to your own experiences in your paper?


Does your paper contain any of the following phrases?

  • I believe
  • In my opinion
  • I think
2. Congratulations! You're done with this lesson.