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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When is It Okay?
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Please share your feedback, both favorable and unfavorable.
How to Write a First Person Essay
First person essay writing guide.
First-person essays are aimed at sharing an experience, letting your reader see and feel it. They show how that experience changed your mind, affected you, educated you. Your essay is your personal journey of discovery. And your main task while writing your essay is to engage a reader to take that journey with you.
To make your thoughts and emotions run in the right direction, you need to follow the basic rules. Here is how to write from your perspective and show your reader the true sense of the story.
Let's take it step by step:
- Step 1 - Choosing an Experience to Share The topics are endless. Almost anything can be the subject material for your essay – relationships, nature, climbing, death, traveling – just ask yourself what you have experienced that has emotional appeal. Your topic can be funny, compelling or touching. If you cannot decide what to write about, ask yourself what makes you happy or what makes you sad. All topics are at your fingertips, you simply need to choose a great illustrative one that will make your reader care. When you have a clear idea of what you want to share, go to the next important step – writing the first draft.
- Personal – You are the main protagonist, so make your essay intimate and revealing to show the reader your personal world. The best essays are written like a conversation with a smart friend, in a real and genuine way.
- Engaging – To make your essay interesting, include intriguing details, humorous experience and descriptive language. Your essay shouldn't sound like a science report, so make sure your writing style is appealing and entertaining.
- Understandable – Write in a straightforward and understandable way. Avoid using unclear references or dubious phrases. Use simple, clear and concise language that will easily connect you with a reader.
- Revealing – It is very important to make your first-person essay revealing. Personal references establish the setting, mood, theme and historical relevance. If you fail to do that, you'll find it really difficult to disclose all necessary information in your essay.
- Step 3 - Perfecting Your Essay The last step in crafting an effective essay is to thoroughly revise your writing piece. You've written what you think is close to a perfect work, but don't rush to submit it at once. Take time to reread your essay and ensure that it doesn't contain the common pitfalls. A good essay is one that appeals to the five senses. Make sure you offer enough details, so your reader can see, hear and smell what you're writing about. Don't just tell the audience what's going on, use the verbs to show that. However, avoid being too emotional. It's fine to show happiness, anger or sadness, but you need to find a balance. In addition, check your essay for grammar, punctuation, repetitions. You don't want to spoil your personal journey by silly typos or mistakes. Ask yourself if your writing is clear and to-the-point and whether you share your thoughts in the most understandable way. Write in detail, be honest, talk about emotions and your first-person essay will surely engage your reader!
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When to Use First-Person Writing in Your Essays
The dreaded “I” word. How can one letter be so malignant when it comes to academic writing?
It’s likely that many of your teachers and professors have drilled it into your head that using first-person writing in your essays will immediately result in another unrelenting letter of the alphabet: “F.”
As a curious student, you may be thinking that surely there must be some instances where using first-person writing is okay.
If that’s you, you’re asking all the right questions. This post will cover when it’s okay to use first-person writing in your essays and when it’s better to stick with third-person.
What Exactly Is First-Person Writing?
For instance, this adorable kitten is talking primarily in first-person perspective (the “you” and “your” there is second-person perspective , which could be another blog topic entirely).
First-person writing can get really boring really fast. For example, I’ll write a short narrative about my day so far.
I opened my emails. I ate breakfast. The neighbor’s dog annoyed me. I pet my cats and later pushed them off the couch. I thought about eating popcorn for breakfast…but didn’t. My roommate and I could not decide whether or not to hang the art in our apartment.
While I might think I am fascinating, you have probably stopped reading the list by now. You’re done hearing about me, me, me , right?
Well, think of that as part of the reason your teachers might boycott first-person pronouns. If your professor wants you to write an essay about President Obama, he or she probably doesn’t want to hear about what you (or the President for that matter) ate for breakfast.
When Is First-person Writing Ineffective or Unwarranted?
Let’s face it. Everyone likes to write about themselves. The problem with first-person perspective in academic writing is that it can sound
When your instructor wants you to write a 15-page research paper about the problems in the Middle East , exclusively talking about your opinions on the matter is going to be an issue.
Instead, you should look for unbiased sources, search through the material, and use that in your research paper to make it more credible . Yes, that might sound like a lot more work, but it will pay off when you get your grade.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to take out first-person writing altogether. If you have the impulse to write in first-person perspective a lot, that’s okay! It’s still a great way to get your thoughts out on paper.
For example, pretend that this is one of my main points for a poem analysis I am writing:
Using words such as “melancholy” and “frustration,” the poem made me feel sad.
In this case, the first-person “me” would not be appropriate because the focus needs to be on the poem itself and not on what I think about it. But, because I wrote this, I now understand what the poem is doing.
I can rewrite this idea in my second draft using third-person perspective:
Using words such as “melancholy” and “frustration,” the poem employs a mournful tone to demonstrate the difficulty that comes with the loss of a loved one.
Most times, you’re the only one who will see your first draft, so go ahead and throw first-person perspective in if it helps you get your thoughts on paper. Make sure, however, that you go through and take it out in your revision.
Make or Break Your Academic Career: When Is First-person Writing Okay?
Okay, I was being dramatic with that header. Really, if you mess up on choosing whether to use first-person writing or not, you don’t have to forever hang your head in shame. You might get a slap on the wrist (in the form of some red marks on your paper), but it’s not the end of the world.
However, it never hurts to educate yourself on the dos and don’ts of first-person writing.
While essays about you require first-person, other types of essays (e.g., research papers) usually should not include first-person perspective.
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Here are some examples of types of essays that, by their nature, require first-person writing:
- Personal narrative essays
- Memoir/reflective essays
- Personal statements (e.g., college application essays)
Try writing an essay about the first time you went to the dentist (narrative essay) without using first-person writing. It would probably sound something like this:
One time, someone’s mom took a person to the dentist, and that person did not like the dentist because the person had cavities.
Writing using “I” just makes more sense for the context:
One time, my mom took me to the dentist, and I did not like the dentist because I had cavities.
Much better, right? There, you already have ammo to use against your teacher when he or she says “no” to first-person writing.
If you would like to look at more examples of essays that require first-person writing, check out these sample personal narrative essays !
Getting Down and Dirty with First-Person Writing
Now we get to the more complicated bit: knowing when to use first-person writing in other types of academic papers.
As a failsafe, I would suggest that you stay away from first-person writing in most instances . As long as you are not writing personal essays, it would be hard to go wrong with leaving yourself out of it.
There are cases where first-person writing is appropriate in other types of academic writing, but I would highly suggest discussing it with your professor first. Here are a couple of those cases:
Case #1 – Replacing Passive Voice with First-person Writing
Passive voice is another no-no that professors and teachers pound into students’ heads, and one way to fix it is to use first-person perspective. Here is a sentence that is in passive voice:
The flask was used to combine the liquids so the experiment could be observed.
While some style guides say to limit passive voice, others strictly say not to use it at all. For instance, the above sentence would not be acceptable in APA Style . Here is one way to fix the sentence:
The researcher used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
However, if you are the researcher, it would be appropriate to use “I” in your APA format lab write-up.
I used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
“We” would also be appropriate an appropriate pronoun if there were more than one researcher and you were one of them.
We used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
Case #2 – Personal Anecdotes
In some essays, adding a personal experience or anecdote can make your essay more successful. For instance, talking about an experience you had when you went to a public forum might be pertinent in a persuasive essay about why more people need to attend public forums.
That being said, don’t go crazy with the first-person writing like this guy.
In these types of essays, limit your use of first-person writing to maybe one short paragraph, and make sure that the writing is relevant to your topic. If you are writing an essay about how important doctors are, for example, you might not want to talk about how your dog has superpowers.
Just a hunch.
The Verdict on First-person Writing: Sometimes
Like many hard-and-fast rules, there are instances when using first-person pronouns (or even running red lights) is okay.
Remember that personal essays (essays about you) need first-person writing. Research papers, literary analyses, and other academic papers, on the other hand, can include first-person writing on a situational basis as long as it is relevant and does not occur all the way through the essay.
If you need help taking the first-person pronouns out of your essay, you can always get help from our talented Kibin editors .
* Cover image by Frederik Delaere
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays .
About the Author
Andra V. (they/them), in addition to writing and editing for Kibin , is the author of Body Until Light , Time Counts Backward from Infinity , and two chapbooks of poetry. They lead creative writing workshops and believe that art, poetry, and aesthetics are forms of divinity. They live the revolution of queerness and are very happily settled with a nesting partner, two bunnies, and a spinning wheel at their home in Portland, OR.
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First-Person Point of View
Scholarly voice: first-person point of view.
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- Active and Passive Voice
- Using Academic Diction
- Commonly Confused Words
- Verb Choice
- Verbs That Introduce
- Use of "It"
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 first person pronouns.
In addition to the pointers below, APA 7, Section 4.16 provides information on the appropriate use of first person in scholarly writing.
Inappropriate Uses: 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. Appropriate Use: I surveyed 2,900 adults who consumed white bread regularly. In this chapter, I present a literature review on research about how seasonal light changes affect depression.
Confusing Sentence: The researcher found that the authors had been accurate in their study of helium, which the researcher had hypothesized from the beginning of their project. Revision: I found that Johnson et al. (2011) had been accurate in their study of helium, which I had hypothesized since I began my project.
Passive voice: The surveys were distributed and the results were compiled after they were collected. Revision: I distributed the surveys, and then I collected and compiled the results.
Appropriate use of first person we and our : Two other nurses and I worked together to create a qualitative survey to measure patient satisfaction. Upon completion, we presented the results to our supervisor.
Make assumptions about your readers by putting them in a group to which they may not belong by using 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" are, and using a phrase such as "our society " can immediately exclude readers from outside your social group. In the second sentence, the author assumes that the reader is a nurse or medical professional, which may not be the case, and the sentence expresses the opinion of the author.
To write with more precision and clarity, hallmarks of scholarly writing, revise these sentences without the use of "we" and "our."
- Moderate activity can reduce the risk of obesity (Hu et al., 2003).
- Staff members in the health care industry can help improve the recovery rate for patients (Matthews, 2013).
- APA Formatting & Style: Pronouns (video transcript)
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Can I Use “I” and “Me” in an Academic Essay?
Can I use “I” and “Me” in an academic essay?
High school and college students have asked me this question many times.
My initial answer?
Typically, this question stems from a student’s experience with a high school or middle school teacher who advised, even commanded, students to never, ever use first-person pronouns in their essays. And so, when I get this question, I tend to hear a sub-question lying just beneath the surface: was my teacher right or wrong? Or sometimes even: was my teacher good or bad, smart or dumb?
Because of all the assumptions and back-story that I sense in this question, my answer always comes with many caveats.
The short, reductive, easily misunderstood version of my answer:
You can use first-person pronouns in your essays, but you probably shouldn’t.
But like I said, it’s complicated.
My sense is that teachers usually tell their students to avoid “I” or “me” (or “we,” “us,” “my,” and “our”) because these pronouns are often used poorly. The same goes for other “rules” that aren’t really rules: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Never begin a sentence with “And,” “But,” or “Because.” Place your thesis in the last sentence of your introduction paragraph.
None of these are iron-clad rules. Rather, they are strategic pieces of advice that your teachers have turned into “rules” because, well, students need directions (or at least many teachers think they do). While none of these guidelines deserve to be universally enforced, they do help provide students with a structure that, oftentimes, helps produce effectively communicated essays.
But back to “I,” “me,” and other first-person pronouns—what’s actually wrong with using them? The problem I see most often is that students use these pronouns in thesis statements like these:
“In my personal opinion, the central character in Hamlet is Ophelia.”
“I think that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s frequent use of imagery related to vision in The Great Gatsby shows that early twentieth-century visual culture was a product of the superficial consumerism of 1920s America.”
These two thesis statements are far from equal, and both could, in theory, be effectively deployed in the context of a well-developed essay. But they both share a common problem. Both statements reduce their arguments to matters of personal opinion—“In my personal opinion,” “I think.”
The problem with such statements is that they serve as crutches, allowing their writers to hide behind a subjective viewpoint that’s immune to reasoning or criticism. The phrasing from both seems to emerge from the common-sense view that “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” But one of the main measures of effective expository or argument-based writing is reasoning , which can never rely solely on personal opinion.
To be a convincing writer, it doesn’t matter so much what you think as explaining why you think it. Your opinion might be convincing to you, but if you want to convince a reader, you’re going to have to move beyond “I” and “my” statements like the ones above.
Also: both statements would be stronger without those crutches:
“The central character in Hamlet is Ophelia.”
“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s frequent use of imagery related to vision in The Great Gatsby shows that early twentieth-century visual culture was a product of the superficial consumerism of 1920s America.”
These sentences are bolder, more interesting, and more likely to encourage their writers to provide solid support.
But there are other considerations to keep in mind. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a useful handout for navigating the first-person pronoun question. Consider this example, quoted from UNC:
“As I observed the communication styles of first-year Carolina women, I noticed frequent use of non-verbal cues.”
In this case, we’re dealing with an essay rooted in a social-scientific study. By using “I,” the writer has reduced the study to a matter of individual experience—hardly the scientific foundation that the study aims for. Consider the revision:
“A study of the communication styles of first-year Carolina women revealed frequent use of non-verbal cues.”
As UNC explains, “Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.” If your aim is to communicate scientific or fact-based observations—be they from a novel or a laboratory—it’s usually best to avoid the first person.
But as I said, it’s complicated. There are cases that all but require you use first-person pronouns. Consider this example from UNC:
“In studying American popular culture of the 1980s, the question of to what degree materialism was a major characteristic of the cultural milieu was explored.”
To avoid first-person pronouns, this writer is forced into an awkward passive construction (“the question . . . was explored”). The first person corrects this problem. And in this sentence, the first person does not take away from the air of objectivity that the writer is aiming for:
“In our study of American popular culture of the 1980s, we explored the degree to which materialism characterized the cultural milieu.”
This is an explanation of method, of how “we” did what we did. In most cases, you want to assert your claims as true—not infallible, not airtight, not perfect, but nonetheless true, as you see it. But you also don’t want to pretend that there isn’t a human subject behind your reading, research, and writing. In the case of a sentence like the one above, avoiding the first person produces a contrived sentence that rings false.
And so, all things considered, the most honest advice I can give on the “I” question is this:
If you’re not sure whether to use first-person pronouns, first write the sentence in the way that feels most natural to you.
(It’s crucial that, in a first draft, you write with the idea that no one in the world but you will ever read what you just put down on the page . This is the most liberating and urgent advice I could share with any writer.)
After you’ve written the sentence out, assuming it uses the first person, try this: cross out your first-person statement—your “In my opinion,” or “I think,” or “We contend.” Then see how the sentence holds up without the first person. Is the statement now stronger, bolder, more assertive, more “objective” sounding? Or does it now feel garbled?
In the end, the question of whether or not to use “I” is ultimately up to you .
Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and reading at Elite Prep Los Angeles since 2010.
Should I Use “I”?
What this handout is about.
This handout is about determining when to use first person pronouns (“I”, “we,” “me,” “us,” “my,” and “our”) and personal experience in academic writing. “First person” and “personal experience” might sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but first person and personal experience can work in very different ways in your writing. You might choose to use “I” but not make any reference to your individual experiences in a particular paper. Or you might include a brief description of an experience that could help illustrate a point you’re making without ever using the word “I.” So whether or not you should use first person and personal experience are really two separate questions, both of which this handout addresses. It also offers some alternatives if you decide that either “I” or personal experience isn’t appropriate for your project. If you’ve decided that you do want to use one of them, this handout offers some ideas about how to do so effectively, because in many cases using one or the other might strengthen your writing.
Expectations about academic writing
Students often arrive at college with strict lists of writing rules in mind. Often these are rather strict lists of absolutes, including rules both stated and unstated:
- Each essay should have exactly five paragraphs.
- Don’t begin a sentence with “and” or “because.”
- Never include personal opinion.
- Never use “I” in essays.
We get these ideas primarily from teachers and other students. Often these ideas are derived from good advice but have been turned into unnecessarily strict rules in our minds. The problem is that overly strict rules about writing can prevent us, as writers, from being flexible enough to learn to adapt to the writing styles of different fields, ranging from the sciences to the humanities, and different kinds of writing projects, ranging from reviews to research.
So when it suits your purpose as a scholar, you will probably need to break some of the old rules, particularly the rules that prohibit first person pronouns and personal experience. Although there are certainly some instructors who think that these rules should be followed (so it is a good idea to ask directly), many instructors in all kinds of fields are finding reason to depart from these rules. Avoiding “I” can lead to awkwardness and vagueness, whereas using it in your writing can improve style and clarity. Using personal experience, when relevant, can add concreteness and even authority to writing that might otherwise be vague and impersonal. Because college writing situations vary widely in terms of stylistic conventions, tone, audience, and purpose, the trick is deciphering the conventions of your writing context and determining how your purpose and audience affect the way you write. The rest of this handout is devoted to strategies for figuring out when to use “I” and personal experience.
Effective uses of “I”:
In many cases, using the first person pronoun can improve your writing, by offering the following benefits:
- Assertiveness: In some cases you might wish to emphasize agency (who is doing what), as for instance if you need to point out how valuable your particular project is to an academic discipline or to claim your unique perspective or argument.
- Clarity: Because trying to avoid the first person can lead to awkward constructions and vagueness, using the first person can improve your writing style.
- Positioning yourself in the essay: In some projects, you need to explain how your research or ideas build on or depart from the work of others, in which case you’ll need to say “I,” “we,” “my,” or “our”; if you wish to claim some kind of authority on the topic, first person may help you do so.
Deciding whether “I” will help your style
Here is an example of how using the first person can make the writing clearer and more assertive:
In studying American popular culture of the 1980s, the question of to what degree materialism was a major characteristic of the cultural milieu was explored.
Better example using first person:
In our study of American popular culture of the 1980s, we explored the degree to which materialism characterized the cultural milieu.
The original example sounds less emphatic and direct than the revised version; using “I” allows the writers to avoid the convoluted construction of the original and clarifies who did what.
Here is an example in which alternatives to the first person would be more appropriate:
As I observed the communication styles of first-year Carolina women, I noticed frequent use of non-verbal cues.
A study of the communication styles of first-year Carolina women revealed frequent use of non-verbal cues.
In the original example, using the first person grounds the experience heavily in the writer’s subjective, individual perspective, but the writer’s purpose is to describe a phenomenon that is in fact objective or independent of that perspective. Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.
Here’s another example in which an alternative to first person works better:
As I was reading this study of medieval village life, I noticed that social class tended to be clearly defined.
This study of medieval village life reveals that social class tended to be clearly defined.
Although you may run across instructors who find the casual style of the original example refreshing, they are probably rare. The revised version sounds more academic and renders the statement more assertive and direct.
Here’s a final example:
I think that Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases, or at least it seems that way to me.
Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases.
In this example, there is no real need to announce that that statement about Aristotle is your thought; this is your paper, so readers will assume that the ideas in it are yours.
Determining whether to use “I” according to the conventions of the academic field
Which fields allow “I”?
The rules for this are changing, so it’s always best to ask your instructor if you’re not sure about using first person. But here are some general guidelines.
Sciences: In the past, scientific writers avoided the use of “I” because scientists often view the first person as interfering with the impression of objectivity and impersonality they are seeking to create. But conventions seem to be changing in some cases—for instance, when a scientific writer is describing a project she is working on or positioning that project within the existing research on the topic. Check with your science instructor to find out whether it’s o.k. to use “I” in his/her class.
Social Sciences: Some social scientists try to avoid “I” for the same reasons that other scientists do. But first person is becoming more commonly accepted, especially when the writer is describing his/her project or perspective.
Humanities: Ask your instructor whether you should use “I.” The purpose of writing in the humanities is generally to offer your own analysis of language, ideas, or a work of art. Writers in these fields tend to value assertiveness and to emphasize agency (who’s doing what), so the first person is often—but not always—appropriate. Sometimes writers use the first person in a less effective way, preceding an assertion with “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe” as if such a phrase could replace a real defense of an argument. While your audience is generally interested in your perspective in the humanities fields, readers do expect you to fully argue, support, and illustrate your assertions. Personal belief or opinion is generally not sufficient in itself; you will need evidence of some kind to convince your reader.
Other writing situations: If you’re writing a speech, use of the first and even the second person (“you”) is generally encouraged because these personal pronouns can create a desirable sense of connection between speaker and listener and can contribute to the sense that the speaker is sincere and involved in the issue. If you’re writing a resume, though, avoid the first person; describe your experience, education, and skills without using a personal pronoun (for example, under “Experience” you might write “Volunteered as a peer counselor”).
A note on the second person “you”:
In situations where your intention is to sound conversational and friendly because it suits your purpose, as it does in this handout intended to offer helpful advice, or in a letter or speech, “you” might help to create just the sense of familiarity you’re after. But in most academic writing situations, “you” sounds overly conversational, as for instance in a claim like “when you read the poem ‘The Wasteland,’ you feel a sense of emptiness.” In this case, the “you” sounds overly conversational. The statement would read better as “The poem ‘The Wasteland’ creates a sense of emptiness.” Academic writers almost always use alternatives to the second person pronoun, such as “one,” “the reader,” or “people.”
Personal experience in academic writing
The question of whether personal experience has a place in academic writing depends on context and purpose. In papers that seek to analyze an objective principle or data as in science papers, or in papers for a field that explicitly tries to minimize the effect of the researcher’s presence such as anthropology, personal experience would probably distract from your purpose. But sometimes you might need to explicitly situate your position as researcher in relation to your subject of study. Or if your purpose is to present your individual response to a work of art, to offer examples of how an idea or theory might apply to life, or to use experience as evidence or a demonstration of an abstract principle, personal experience might have a legitimate role to play in your academic writing. Using personal experience effectively usually means keeping it in the service of your argument, as opposed to letting it become an end in itself or take over the paper.
It’s also usually best to keep your real or hypothetical stories brief, but they can strengthen arguments in need of concrete illustrations or even just a little more vitality.
Here are some examples of effective ways to incorporate personal experience in academic writing:
- Anecdotes: In some cases, brief examples of experiences you’ve had or witnessed may serve as useful illustrations of a point you’re arguing or a theory you’re evaluating. For instance, in philosophical arguments, writers often use a real or hypothetical situation to illustrate abstract ideas and principles.
- References to your own experience can explain your interest in an issue or even help to establish your authority on a topic.
- Some specific writing situations, such as application essays, explicitly call for discussion of personal experience.
Here are some suggestions about including personal experience in writing for specific fields:
Philosophy: In philosophical writing, your purpose is generally to reconstruct or evaluate an existing argument, and/or to generate your own. Sometimes, doing this effectively may involve offering a hypothetical example or an illustration. In these cases, you might find that inventing or recounting a scenario that you’ve experienced or witnessed could help demonstrate your point. Personal experience can play a very useful role in your philosophy papers, as long as you always explain to the reader how the experience is related to your argument. (See our handout on writing in philosophy for more information.)
Religion: Religion courses might seem like a place where personal experience would be welcomed. But most religion courses take a cultural, historical, or textual approach, and these generally require objectivity and impersonality. So although you probably have very strong beliefs or powerful experiences in this area that might motivate your interest in the field, they shouldn’t supplant scholarly analysis. But ask your instructor, as it is possible that he or she is interested in your personal experiences with religion, especially in less formal assignments such as response papers. (See our handout on writing in religious studies for more information.)
Literature, Music, Fine Arts, and Film: Writing projects in these fields can sometimes benefit from the inclusion of personal experience, as long as it isn’t tangential. For instance, your annoyance over your roommate’s habits might not add much to an analysis of “Citizen Kane.” However, if you’re writing about Ridley Scott’s treatment of relationships between women in the movie “Thelma and Louise,” some reference your own observations about these relationships might be relevant if it adds to your analysis of the film. Personal experience can be especially appropriate in a response paper, or in any kind of assignment that asks about your experience of the work as a reader or viewer. Some film and literature scholars are interested in how a film or literary text is received by different audiences, so a discussion of how a particular viewer or reader experiences or identifies with the piece would probably be appropriate. (See our handouts on writing about fiction , art history , and drama for more information.)
Women’s Studies: Women’s Studies classes tend to be taught from a feminist perspective, a perspective which is generally interested in the ways in which individuals experience gender roles. So personal experience can often serve as evidence for your analytical and argumentative papers in this field. This field is also one in which you might be asked to keep a journal, a kind of writing that requires you to apply theoretical concepts to your experiences.
History: If you’re analyzing a historical period or issue, personal experience is less likely to advance your purpose of objectivity. However, some kinds of historical scholarship do involve the exploration of personal histories. So although you might not be referencing your own experience, you might very well be discussing other people’s experiences as illustrations of their historical contexts. (See our handout on writing in history for more information.)
Sciences: Because the primary purpose is to study data and fixed principles in an objective way, personal experience is less likely to have a place in this kind of writing. Often, as in a lab report, your goal is to describe observations in such a way that a reader could duplicate the experiment, so the less extra information, the better. Of course, if you’re working in the social sciences, case studies—accounts of the personal experiences of other people—are a crucial part of your scholarship. (See our handout on writing in the sciences for more information.)
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Checklist to Avoid Low Grades
1. Don’t be afraid to use simple sentences. Advanced writing is not about by how things are said but what is said. In other words use simple language to explain complex things. Do not use complex language to explain simple things. Think about that for a second. Apply it to any paper you write.
2. Do not use first or second person anywhere in your essay
Do not write in “first” or “second” person – use only “third person.” “how do i write my opinion in ‘third person’”.
First and second person should not be used in formal writing, such as a term paper. First person is the use of “I, me, my, we” etc. Second person is the use of “you, your,” etc. Many students are confused how to write one’s opinion is third person.” Here are some examples of how it is done.
Changing first person to third person
“I think the justice system should treat all defendants the same.” Change to: “The justice system should treat all defendants the same.”
“I believe that the police should not practice racial profiling.” Change to: “The police should not practice racial profiling.”
“I feel that you should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer.” NOTE THIS IS WRITTEN IN FIRST AND SECOND PERSON. TO CHANGE TO THIRD PERSON ONLY: “One should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer” or “A person should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer.”
Changing second person to third person
“Many of you are confused how to write in the third person.” Change to: “Many students are confused how to write in the third person.”
”You should not write in first or second person in formal writing.” Change to: “One should not write in first or second person in formal writing.”
“For a five-paragraph essay you should cover no more than three main points.” Change to: “A student should cover no more than three main points in a five-paragraph essay.”
2. Do not use contractions in formal writing. Spell them out.
A few examples of contractions.
Don’t = do not
Can’t = cannot
Isn’t = is not
It’s and its are commonly confused
It’s = it is. (“It’s not okay to use contractions in formal writing.”)
Its = is the possessive form of “it.” (“The dog licks its tail.”)
3. Spell out small numbers – for sure all below ten
There is no absolute rule here. A conservative rule is to spell out all numbers below fifty (50). At minimum you should spell out all numbers below ten (10).
4. The very first paragraph must have a clear and explicit thematic statement at the end!
The thematic statement should be the very last sentence in the introductory paragraph.
5. Do not start the essay with a definition
Do not start the essay with a definition from a website, book, or dictionary. For example do NOT do the following
Webster’s online dictionary defines “justice” as, “being just or fair.”
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug abuse as, “the non-medicinal use of any intoxicating substance.”
It is better to begin with a general description of how the issue affects our society or something like this:
“A modern democracy must provide some measure of fairness in its criminal justice system.”
“The problem of drug abuse has attracted an increasing amount of public attention since the War on Drugs was declared in the 1980’s.”
6. “there are no good writers – only good rewriters”.
Write it. Rest. Rewrite it. Rest. Rewrite it. Rest. Rewrite it...turning in a first draft is a recipe for failure. If you are going to spend three hours on this paper spend one hour over three nights, sleeping on each draft. When you return to your paper you will have a refreshed perspective and will find errors you missed when you were tired the first time!
7. Use Spell Check and Grammar Check!
All word processors have spell checkers and most have grammar checkers... use them. Here is a hint. If Microsoft Word has the word underlined in red that means it is not spelled correctly. If a whole phrase or word is underlined in green that means there is a grammar problem. Heck I can't spell for beans, but I can find the "spell check" thing with a little searching. Usually it is under the "tools" menu. (Push “F7” in Microsoft Word). If you don't know how to use these tools, go to that "help" menu at the top far right of the computer screen and use it. Don’t be intimidated. It may take a couple of tries, but it is not rocket science.
An essay written in the third person refers to characters as “he,” “she,” “it” or “they” and never references the author using words like “I” or “we.” Third person narration typically makes an essay sound more professional and less casual.
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses.
Writing a perspective essay begins with choosing a topic, determining the thesis statement for the essay, choosing a specific point of view and backing up the essay with concrete examples, illustrations and questions.
While first person can definitely be overused in academic essays (which is likely why your teachers tell you not to use it), there are moments in a paper when
A first-person essay is a piece of writing that describes an important lesson gathered from a writer's personal experience, written in the first
Personal writing, such as for a reflective essay, or a "personal response" discussion posting, can be written in the first person (using "I" and "me")
First-person essays are aimed at sharing an experience, letting your reader see and feel it. They show how that experience changed your mind, affected you
First-person writing involves using singular first-person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, etc. You could also use plural first-person pronouns
Yes. Essays can be written in the first person, but usually that's reserved for narrative essays including personal essays. Academic essays using research are
Use the first person singular pronoun appropriately, for example, to describe research steps or to state what you will do in a chapter or section. Do not use
You can use first-person pronouns in your essays, but you probably shouldn't. But like I said, it's complicated.
“First person” and “personal experience” might sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but first person and personal experience can work in very different
First and second person should not be used in formal writing, such as a term paper. First person is the use of “I, me, my, we” etc. Second person is the use of
Well, if you're crafting a formal exposé on the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln, you probably shouldn't use first-person pronouns.