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Scholarly Voice: Writing in the First Person

First-Person Point of View

Since 2007, Walden academic leadership has endorsed the APA manual guidance on appropriate use of the first-person singular pronoun "I," allowing the use of this pronoun in all Walden academic writing except doctoral capstone abstracts, which should not contain a first-person pronoun.

In addition to the pointers below, the APA manual provides information on the appropriate use of first person in scholarly writing (see APA 7, Section 4.16).

APA Style and First-Person Pronouns

APA prefers that writers use the first person for clarity and self-reference.

To promote clear communication, writers should use the first person, rather than passive voice or the third person, to indicate the action the writer is taking.

  • Example of passive voice: In this study, data were collected using intensive interviews.
    • This passive voice is unclear as it does not indicate who collected these data.
  • Example of vague third-person reference: In this study, the researcher collected using intensive interviews.
    • This third-person voice is not preferred in APA style and is not specific about who "the researcher" is or which researcher collected these data.
  • Revision using the first-person pronoun: In this study, I conducted intensive interviews to collect data.
    • This sentence clearly indicates who collected these data. Active voice, first-person sentence construction is clear and precise.

Avoid Overusing First-Person Pronouns

However, using a lot of "I" statements is repetitious and may distract readers. Remember, avoiding repetitious phrasing is also recommended in the APA manual.

  • Example of repetitive use of "I": In this study, I administered a survey. I created a convenience sample of 68 teachers. I invited them to participate in the survey by emailing them an invitation. I obtained email addresses from the principal of the school…
  • Revision to reduce repetition: In this study, I administered a survey using a convenience sample. Sixty-eight teachers were invited to participate in the survey. The principal of the school provided me with the email addresses of teachers who fit the requirements for participation. I emailed the teachers an information sheet and a consent form. A total of 45 teachers responded…
    • We suggest that students use "I" in the first sentence of the paragraph. Then, if it is clear to the reader that the student (writer) is the actor in the remaining sentences, use the active and passive voices appropriately to achieve precision and clarity.

Avoid Second-Person Pronouns

In addition, avoid the second person ("you").

  • Example using the second person: As a leader, you have to decide what kind of leadership approach you want to use with your employees.
  • Revision into third person: Leaders must decide what type of leadership approach they want to take with their employees.
    • It is important for writers to clearly indicate who or what they mean (again back to precision and clarity). Writers need to opt for specificity instead of the second person. Remember, the capstone is not a speech; the writer is not talking to anyone.

Restrict Use of Plural First-Person Pronouns

Also, for clarity, restrict the use of "we" and "our." These should only be used when writers are referring to themselves and other, specific individuals, not in the general sense.

  • Example of plural first-person pronoun: We must change society to reflect the needs of current-day children and parents.
  • Revision into third person to specify the people discussed: Educators, administrators and policy makers must change society to reflect the needs of current-day children and parents.
    • Here, it is important to clarify who "we" means as the writer is not referring to specific individuals. Being specific about the who is important to clarity and precision.

Avoid Unsupported Opinion Statements

When using the first-person "I," avoid opinion statements.

As writers write, revise, and self-edit, they should pay specific attention to opinion statements. The following phrases have no place in scholarly writing:

  • I think…
  • I believe…
  • I feel…

Writers and scholars need to base arguments, conclusions, and claims on evidence. When encountering "I" statements like this, do the following:

  • Consider whether this really an opinion or whether this can be supported by evidence (citations).
  • If there is evidence, remove the “I think…”, “I believe…”, “I feel…” phrasing and write a declarative statement, including the citation.
  • If there is no evidence to cite, consider whether the claim or argument can be made. Remember that scholarly writing is not based on opinion, so if writers cannot support a claim with citations to scholarly literature or other credible sources, they need to reconsider whether they can make that claim.