February 25

Yes, It’s okay to say “I”

Oh, yes, this is one of those unspoken rules that must have been boiled in our brains when we were unsuspecting high school students, or, worse, foolish graduate students.

Somewhere along the line, we got the very strong impression that to use the word “I” in a paper was not “objective” or “scientific,” and, therefore, made whatever statement followed absolutely not true.

So, sans brainwashing, a perfectly normal person might have asserted their findings in this way: “Through the data analysis, I found that 78% of incoming freshmen smoked marijuana at least once in the course of the academic year.” (I'm part criminologist by training, don't flip out and cite me on Twitter, please. This is just a hypothetical example.) That sentence makes sense on the first read, right?

Instead, we, brandishing our brainwashed bandages, type out something like this: “This present study finds that of the freshmen interviewed during the 2011-2012 academic year, 78% self-reported as having obtained the use of marijuana on at least one, specific occasion.”

Okay, I did go a bit over the top on that second example. However, I hope you do see my point that when a sentence begins with, “This present study,” your eyelids have an automatic droop response. I'm going to coin that: ADR (Automatic Droop Response. It'll be the new EVOO.)

Your eyelids have ADR response because they know that whoever starts a sentence with “This present study” is intent on being objective rather than engaging. (Note: I'm not making fun of you if you have such a sentence in your own writing. I, too, have suffered such mistakes, but we are here to learn and better ourselves together, right?)

Well, can't we be subjectively engaged? Yes, yes, we can, and the style guides agree. Even in 1974, the APA Style guide said, “We means two or more authors or experimenters, including yourself. Use I when that is what you mean.”

What exactly do you mean? Do you mean that your study did all the statistical analysis? No? Oh, wait you did all that analysis. Then, say so!

I'm currently staying up late with my glass of wine and Helen Swords's Stylish Academic Writing, and I must say, she is positively inspiring. I spent too much of my life convinced that if I wasn't writing like the hum-drum published authors that I was never going to make it as an academic. Now that I've gained some space from academia, I realize that most academics dislike reading even their own discipline's work! How awful.

Let's do something about that, shall we?

Let's start a revolution that'll make their heads spin! Cross out your instances of “This present study finds,” and instead say, “I find!”

You know you want to.


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