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Referring to Yourself

Writing Help from the PhraseBook for Writing Papers and Research in English

 

Subjectivity and objectivity

Referring to yourself in university and research writing is a conflict between modesty, which tends to avoid calling attention to the author, a desire to be and be seen to be objective, which tends to avoid using the subjective pronoun I, and the importance of clearly identifying the author of a written text. Although by convention I is avoided in writing in many subjects, this in itself does not make writing more objective.

A further point is that printed work, though written by someone, is produced by machine and given the appearance of impersonality. The permanence and status of the written word and in particular of print adds credence to a text, indeed, the printed word is often 'taken as read'.

In referring to yourself, the alternatives vary in how directly they point to you as the author, with I the most direct, and passive phrases such as It may be argued not actively referring to the author at all. These ways of referring to yourself mirror ways of addressing others in many languages, for example by using a plural as in French vous or a title as in Spanish usted.

How you refer to yourself depends on normal usage in your subject, and how visible you personally wish to be in your text. In university and research writing, some fields and publications prefer the author to be present in the text by using more direct forms, while others prefer a more impersonal style.

 

Ways of referring to yourself

I
I do not wish to suggest that...
I would like to thank my supervisor, X, who encouraged me to...
My own view is that...
 
one
One could argue that...
One may question whether...
This becomes clear when one examines...
 
we
We can say that...
What we are mainly concerned with here...
Our view is that...

Note: in some subjects, using we to refer to a single author is regarded as old-fashioned, though some writers use we to include the audience in the discussion. Using we in a co-authored paper is neutral.

 

the author

Examples
The view of the author is that...
The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of...

Note: when writing about other authors' work, do not refer to yourself as the author or the writer, which can be confused with the author or writer you are reviewing.

 

Impersonal phrases

Examples
It is clear that...
This study argues...
This paper will show...
One possible explanation is that...

Note: beware of using impersonal forms that are unclear about the person or people expressing an opinion or finding, such as It is believed or It was found that which do not make clear who believes or made the finding.

 

Passive phrases

Examples
...can be explained by...
It may be argued that...
It has been shown in this chapter how...

 

Do not use you

Although common in speech, do not use you to mean 'one' in university and research writing:

Examples
First you boil the liquid, then you change the filter.
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PhraseBook for Writing Papers and Research in English
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Referring to yourself

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