I statements in writing

Students often write horribly convoluted and passive sentences. A cause of this phenomenon is likely related to another befuddling phenomenon: questions about “I statements.” For example, “in my reflection I will use the APA style but I know it forbids ‘I statements.’” What? Citation please. Given that passive prose, third person subjects and royal plurals have long been out of style, students in their early 20s should be well free of the contaminating influence of turgid writing. Yet, apparently, high school teachers are inculcating a fear of direct first person statements (e.g., “In this essay I argue…”) in a way that favors indirectness (e.g., “It is argued”) or nonsensicalness (e.g., “this paper will argue”).

Of course, every action is in response to some other action. Hence, if students are forbidden from writing with “I statements” this must be in response to something else. What that is, I can only guess. Perhaps it is to encourage formal writing or to get them to focus upon verifiable claims rather than unsupported beliefs and opinion? In any case, college students should write in the first person when they need to articulate an argument, thesis, or claim that, of course, should then substantiated (by logical development, evidence, analysis, authority – via citation – or experiential reflection, as appropriate to the assignment).

I’ve now added this recommendation to my Writing Feedback deck/handout.

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