Using Us And We In Essays

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The #1 Writing No-No is to never use 1st or 2nd person.

Why? In academic writing, it’s important to avoid personal bias.  Using “I” or “we” makes the essay about you and your experiences, instead of research and concrete details.

Before I give examples, let’s review the 1st person. 1st person uses I or We, as in “I am upset” and “We ran away.” Also stay away from using me, us, my, mine or ours.

Let’s also take a quick look at 2nd person. Second person uses you and your. When you use 2nd person point of view, you are directly addressing the reader, kind of like I am doing right now.  While this is okay when writing a personal letter, it is not okay in formal writing, especially essays or research papers.  Avoid using this pronoun at all costs because you never want to communicate directly with the reader.

Students often ask, “How can I use a hypothetical question as a hook to begin my essay if I can’t even use YOU?”  My answer is simple: you never want to use a hypothetical question in an essay either. An academic…aka YOU, who uses 2nd person, has not only written too informally, but he or she has also missed the target audience.  YOU indicates that you’re writing for the teacher only, but in an analysis or even just a book report, the student is writing for a broad audience.

My basic rule is this: First is the Worst...Second’s not the Best...Third is the Way You Can Pass the Test.

Let’s apply this rule to a few examples:

  • Instead of “I cannot believe how much tuition has increased,” try, “Tuition has drastically increased.”
  • Instead of “Don’t text while you drive,” try, “Don’t text and drive.”

Students are so used to using I, my, we, you and your, that they have a hard time weeding them out of their papers.  So, here is my tip of the day: Every writing program, like Microsoft Word, has a search function. Do a simple word search for each of the ones listed here [show visual of word list].  Once you see them, shift your point of view.

Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.

Brought to you by WriteCheck, plagiarism checker software.


When to use "I" and "one"

How to avoid using personal language

1. Sometimes it is just a matter of eliminating the personal language1.

I think Ned Kelly relied on his Irish heritage to gain local sympathy.
Ned Kelly relied on his Irish heritage to gain local sympathy.

We use the passive voice to make our writing sound objective.
The passive voice makes writing sound objective.


2. DO NOT refer to what you think; refer instead to what the evidence suggests.

Beware: "In some disciplines it is acceptable (even preferable) to use personal language. Check these language conventions with your departments."


AVOID using personal judgement words2USE words referring to the evidence
I thinkFrom examining the findings,
I feelIn light of the evidence,
I believeFrom previous research,
I am convinced thatConsidering the results,
I dislikedAccording to the figures,
I liked As shown in the diagram,
I agreeIt is evident from the data that
I disagreeThe literature suggests
I am sure thatGiven this information,
It is my belief thatSome theorists argue that


The following example from a report expresses many opinions yet personal language is not used to do this. It instead refers to the literature and evidence in the form of survey results as well as using third person constructions - 'it' phrases, (see point 3 below) and so avoids having to use a personal judgement phrase such as "I think" in order to express an opinion.


It is widely accepted in academia that "You must be 'seen' to be heard" (Moles & Clarke, 1995, p85); this sentiment was supported by 84% of the surveyed academics who felt that it was important to publish on the Internet. Moreover, the evidence in the literature suggests academic publishing on the Internet is flourishing. For example, the Directory of Electronic Journals Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists (5th ed.) lists 675 electronic journals and newsletters, along with 2500 scholarly discussion groups (King, 1995, pl-760).

According to the surveyed academics, 42% would rather publish in a print journal and 56% would prefer to read articles in print journals. From these survey results, it could be argued...

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise.


3. Use the 3rd person or 'It' constructions2.

It could be arguedthatIt has been suggestedthat
It can be seen thatIt appears that
It was found thatIt is generally agreed that
It could be concluded thatIt seems that
It tends to beIt is widely accepted that
It is doubtful thatIt is evident from the data that

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise.


4. Use the passive voice3.

The passive voice should be used in academic writing when the 'doer' of the action in a sentence is unknown or irrelevant to the discussion. Passive sentence construction emphasises the events and processes the sentence is describing.


Personal pronouns are avoided when using the passive voice; focus moves off 'doer' and onto the action.Active
Wecut a segment of the apple and placed it in agar solution.

A segment of the apple was cut and placed in agar solution.


Our loggers transport the offcuts to the waste station.

The offcuts are transported to the waste station.
The passive verb includes the past participle of the verb 'to be'.

Would you like to review more detailed information on the use and construction of the passive voice?

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise based on point 4.

Do you know how to use Impersonal Language?

If so, go to the Summary Exercise that covers all the aspects of using Impersonal Language.



1 Adapted from: Aveline Perez (The Learning Skills Unit, University of Melbourne) Academic Language.

2 Jordon, R. R. (1992) Academic Writing Course. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons.

3 Text adapted in part from: Learning Development, University of Wollongong Academic English: Self Directed learning Resource.

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