Turning Over New Leaf

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Fighting Chance - Part Two

Eliminate Personal References

The academic world requires formal writing. Students love informality. While it is perfectly acceptable to relate vacation experiences to friends via postcards reading, "Having a wonderful time and I wish you were here," such informality is not academic writing. Eliminating the personal references you and I drastically transforms academic papers from recitations of informal opinions to well-reasoned formal submissions.

Personal references have no place in academic writing. If Peggy (from Part One) had written, "When you go to Brazil, you find many tourists in Rio de Janeiro," she might have been factually correct. However, her instructor might respond, "I never go to Brazil!" Of course, Peggy would say, "Oh, I didn't mean you." She didn't? To whom did the you refer? Get the message? It is not wrong writing. It is simply not academic writing. College students should recognize it is not the responsibility of the reader to figure out what the writer means, even if it is obvious to most. It is the responsibility of the writer to convey the exact meaning to the reader. Here is an actual paragraph submitted in a college term paper:

"When you get behind the wheel of a car, you have a responsibility to control your vehicle at all times. If you fail to do so, you may injure someone, or you may kill someone. You must control your vehicle at all times. If you do not, you may be subject to liability. You might be compelled to pay damages, or you might end up in prison."

Prison! I have a perfect driving record! Of course, this student was not referring to me. He simply failed to understand a key strategy for college writing success – Personal references have no place in academic writing. The concept is simple, but extremely effective.

Eliminate unnecessary personal references.


  1. sean says....i would have trouble not saying i or you.

  2. Sean: That is exactly the point. In the academic world, it is not about "us." Don't take this wrong, but no one at the college level cares what we think about the Roman Empire. Whether we believe Julius Caesar was a good general is irrelevant. Academic papers, such as research papers, should be expressions of the results of our investigation of existing material, opinions of experts, and credible sources. Once we practice shifting the focus to the topic, we also practice better writing skills.

  3. Well said.
    Makes you want to lose your mind...

  4. Yes. It is such a small step, but without it, teachers go bonkers.

  5. JJ,
    One would imagine that students would pay attention and try to impress their professors by using the correct person in their research papers. It was understood that the third person was the ONLY person to use in any writings for college, etc. Papers were returned with low marks when this was not followed!

    The blame could be placed upon state exams, like the FCAT.

    Angeline of

  6. A-M: Wow! Do I agree. The problem lies with the high schools. Teaching to the FCAT does not work. It sets an artificial standard, but does not prepare students for college.


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