by Bailey Bischoff
We use the word “you” a lot in our everyday speech. However, when writing a paper for class, it is often inappropriate to use “you” as the subject of your sentence. Engaging with your reader by using “you” (e.g., You should wear a rain jacket when traveling in the rainforest.) is called using a second person narrative voice. Whether you are writing in first person, second person, or third person is determined by which pronouns you use in your writing.
Pronouns – I, me, we, mine, us
Example – Last week, I wrote a research paper about which type of music Principia students like to listen to at the pub.
Pronouns – you, your, yours
Example – It is probably surprising to you to learn that George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood, but were made instead of bone, ivory, and human teeth.
Pronouns – he, she, his, it, they, theirs
Example – In Professor Shimkus’s article, she argues that the globalization of markets contributes to increases in the amount of cross-continental human trafficking.
For formal academic writing, it is best to stick with a third person narrative, although some fields and assignments may be excepted. Third person narrative is more formal and professional, which is why we use it for academic writing. Of course, formal and professional isn’t the point. Being clear and specific is. Avoiding “you” helps you be precise for your readers.
How can you transition your writing to third person when you’re so used to speaking in first and second person?
Sometimes, cutting out “you” from your sentences happen naturally as you write more clearly and concisely.
Ex. When flying across the country, you should always pack a book for the plane ride.
Ex. Packing a book for an upcoming plane ride often makes long flights more enjoyable.
You can also substitute “one” for “you”, to give your writing a more formal tone.
Ex. When flying across the country, one should always pack a book for the plane ride.
Even better, you can use the real subject of the sentence.
Ex. When flying across the country, travelers should always pack a book for the ride.
When it comes to writing academic papers, you should remember to use “you” less!
No, wait! Writers should remember to use “you” less.
Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.