Monday, May 7, 2012

Stop Writing Formal Academic Essays as your Personal Feelings (or beliefs or thoughts or opinions)

I would like to ban these, and similar, phrases from formal academic essays:

I feel like ... 
I believe that …
I think that …
It is my personal opinion that …

If you are a student, you are asked to write an essay with a persuasive argument (that is to say, a thesis). When you write an academic paper, you aren’t exactly presenting your "feelings" (or your “beliefs” or “thoughts” or "opinions"), are you? Instead, you are doing much more that that in your carefully researched, drafted and redrafted essay: You are presenting supported analysis based on outside evidence. You’ve worked hard and should be proud of that. Your language should reflect your knowledge and confidence.

The reader will be more convinced of your ideas if they are presented as supported claims instead of personal opinions. If you are only writing about your personal opinion, how do readers know that the same ideas pertain to them, too? Ultimately, they might respond to your less-confident language with a harsh, “so what?”

You should use strong, convincing language to show that you have supported your analysis. Then, the reader will believe you and take you more seriously. The best way to do is is by writing in the third person.

Sure, if you are writing something difficult to a friend, you might mediate the challenging advice by writing, “I think that perhaps you should call your friend and apologize. I believe this is what you are already suggesting you should do.” You don’t want to say directly, “Call your friend and apologize because you what you did was wrong.” You know your audience (in this case, your friend) and want to be as friendly, caring and gentle as possible in your vocabulary choices, tone and presentation.

In both cases – talking to a friend and writing an academic essay – how you present your ideas to a particular audience will impact how it is received.

In a formal, academic essay, you are not writing about something personal. You are using your hard-earned analysis skills to offer insightful perspective on something you’ve read. (Yes, I'm repeating myself, but this is important and bears repeating.) Be confident in your work and stand behind it. The readers will stand behind you when you do. 


Elizabeth Rigby said...


This is great! Can you give us some examples?


Chloe Yelena Miller said...

Thanks so much, Elizabeth. Good question. Here's an example:

I feel like it is important to write formal, academic essays in the third person.

Instead of writing in the first person, try turning it into a confident, third person sentence:

Formal, academic essays should be written in the third person because the sentences will offer the reader more information in a confident voice.