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Point of View in Academic Writing
Personal pronouns are used to indicate point of view in most types of writing. Here are some common points of view:
A paper using first person point of view uses pronouns such as I, me, we, and us.
A paper using second person point of view uses the pronoun you.
A paper using third person point of view uses pronouns such as he, she, it, they, him, her, his, and them.
These lists are not complete lists of pronouns, but read on for more details about their use!
More on the First Person
Since 2007, Walden has allowed students to use first person pronouns in their academic writing. However, capstone abstracts should remain in third person. Be sure to check with your instructor or mentor about the use of first person in your program of study.
In addition to the pointers below, section 3.09 in the APA Manual (6th edition) gives more information on the appropriate use of the first person pronouns in both quantitative and qualitative studies. You might also find our explanation of why we should not cite first person statements here.
1. Use first person pronouns appropriately (i.e., to describe research steps). Remember that you should not use them to list your opinions or feelings; referring to credible sources can offer your opinion without explicitly giving it. Statements that directly assert your opinion discredit your academic work. Take a look at the examples below:
I feel that eating white bread causes cancer.
The author feels that eating white bread causes cancer.
I found several sources (Marks, 2011; Isaac, 2006; Stuart, in press) that showed a link between white bread consumption and cancer.
I surveyed 2,900 adults who consumed white bread regularly.
2. Free yourself from the confusion and ambiguity of the multiple uses of the researcher and the author in your work.
The researchers found that the authors had been accurate in their study of helium, which the researchers had hypothesized from the beginning of their project.
We found that the Johnson et al. (2011) had been accurate in their study of helium, which we had hypothesized since we began our project.
3. Avoid passive voice by using the first person. Notice that the sentence in passive voice is missing a subject, and the readers are left wondering who did the action? Who is this sentence talking about?
The surveys were distributed and the results were compiled after they were collected.
I distributed the surveys, and then I collected and compiled the results.
4. Acknowledge your coresearchers and team.
Appropriate use of first person we and our:
Two other nurses and I worked together to create a qualitative survey to measure patient satisfaction. We completed the surveys within 3 days and presented the results to our supervisor.
5. Check with your instructor. Some faculty members (or programs) may be disinclined to allow first person pronouns in student writing.
1. Make assumptions about your readers by putting them into a group in which they do not belong with the use of your first person plural pronouns.
Inappropriate use of first person we and our:
We can stop obesity in our society by changing our lifestyles.
We need to help our patients recover faster.
In the first sentence above, the readers would not necessarily know who we is, and using a phrase such as our society can immediately exclude readers from outside your social group. For example, if you are talking about American society and your reader were from Australia, he or she would not be included in the our because American and Australian societies are different.
In the second sentence, the author assumes that the reader is a nurse or medical professional. However, you do not want assume that the reader shares your background or viewpoint. In order to avoid such assumptions, do not use the general we, our, or us in your writing.
More on the Second Person
In the English language, the word you is a second person pronoun, which is almost universally discouraged in academic writing. Readers of scholarly material assume the objectivity of the writer and a distance between themselves and the writing. When writers use second person, however, they address the readers more directly and remove the scholarly distance, making the tone more conversational rather than academic. Using second person pronouns also assumes a relationship between writer and reader that does not necessarily exist. Look at a few examples below:
Incorrect: Neither surveys nor interviews will give you usable data. (Me, personally?)
Correct: Neither surveys nor interviews will provide usable data.
Issue: The first sentence is too personal (it appears to address the reader, you, directly); avoid addressing the reader directly.
Incorrect: Studying is the best way to improve your grades. (My grades? What if I am not a student?)
Correct: Studying is the best way for students to improve their grades.
Issue: Your grades implies that the reader is a student. A more general construction (students) is better.
Incorrect: According to Frank (2010), when you cry, you feel better.
Correct: According to Frank (2010), individuals feel better when they cry.
Issue: You is imprecise. It is clearer to specify the group to which Frank is referring.
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