Using “I”: The First Person in Academic Writing

This handout is available for download in DOCX format and PDF format.


Students often arrive at college with strict writing rules in mind. Unfortunately, overly strict rules about writing can prevent us, as writers, from being flexible enough to adapt to the writing styles of different fields. So, when it suits your purpose, you will probably need to break some of the old rules, such as the rule that prohibit first person pronouns (i.e. “I” or “we”) in academic writing. This handout will discuss the first person’s uses and provide you with tips on when you should consider using it.

Benefits of the First Person:

In some situations, first-person writing can improve your writing in the following ways:

Potential Problems with Using the First Person:

General Usage of the First Person:

Disciplinary Usage of the First Person:

While it is best to check with your instructor about using “I,” here are some basic guidelines:


Social Sciences:


Other Writing Situations:

Adapted from Lisa Rourke, The Writing Center At UNC (, and The Thompson Writing Program at Duke University (