Academic Writing | How to Avoid Personal Language

Why should you avoid using personal language in your academic writing?

There are various reasons, but overall it is because academic writing is normally considered to be objective and therefore avoids the use of personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ (although there are some exceptions).

In general your writing should focus on what the data, evidence or literature says, and not so much on what you think of it, but what can be derived from the data by analysis, examination or investigation.

So how can you avoid using common expressions such as ‘I think that…’ or ‘I believe that…’?
One way is to become good at recognizing when you should use the ‘passive’ verb structures instead of ‘active’ to describe something. Look at the example below:

[active]The technician loaded the samples into the container.
In the first sentence, the emphasis is on who (the technician) did the action (loaded the samples).

[passive]The samples were loaded into the container.

In the second sentence the emphasis is on what happened (what was done) to the samples and not who did it. It is not always necessary to mention who did the action.

Here are some more alternatives to help you avoid using personal judgement expressions in your academic writing.

There are also various standard expressions which you can substitute instead of ‘I think, etc.’ which will make your academic writing more formal and objective, based on the evidence or data you are dealing with, and based less on your personal opinion.

NOTE: In many fields of study this impersonal, impartial style of writing is normal; however, in certain areas the use of ‘I’ to express personal opinion is accepted and in some cases even preferred. Make sure you are aware of the style requirements for your particular field of study/department before writing your paper/essay.