Posted in English 1103, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Using First-Person “I”

During Wednesday’s class, while you were planning, drafting, and researching, some students asked whether it was acceptable to write your final essay in first person. Yes, you are welcome to write in first person.

Some of the writing you produce as a college student and as a professional will require third person, but writing in the humanities—fields such as English, history, philosophy, religion, and art—often features first person. Although “I” is far less common in the sciences, some science professors advocate a less personal “I.” Richard Neisenbaum, a professor of biology at Muhlenburg College, guides his students toward a more formal “I.” In his words:

“The biggest stylistic problem is that students tend to be too personal or colloquial in their writing, using phrases such as the following: ‘Scientists all agree,’ ‘I find it amazing that,’ ‘The thing that I find most interesting.’ Students are urged to present data and existing information in their own words, but in an objective way. My preference is to use the active voice in the past tense. I feel this is the most direct and least wordy approach: “I asked this,” “I found out that,” These data show” (ctd. in Rosenwasser and Stephen 335).

Keri Colabroy, a professor of Chemistry Muhlenburg College, favors a different approach. On the subject of pronouns, she tells her students, “[I]t’s safer to avoid them” (ctd. in Rosenwasser and Stephen 335).

Work Cited

Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter 11: “Choosing Words, Shaping Sentences.” Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 299-340.

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