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Academic Writing
Impersonal Language
Introduction|Words|Structures|Conventions|Summary

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 words2 USE words referring to the evidence
I think From examining the findings,
I feel In light of the evidence,
I believe From previous research,
I am convinced that Considering the results,
I disliked According to the figures,
I liked As shown in the diagram,
I agree It is evident from the data that
I disagree The literature suggests
I am sure that Given this information,
It is my belief that Some 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.

Example

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 arguedthat It has been suggestedthat
It can be seen that It appears that
It was found that It is generally agreed that
It could be concluded that It seems that
It tends to be It is widely accepted that
It is doubtful that It 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
We cut a segment of the apple and placed it in agar solution.

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

________________

Active
Our loggers transport the offcuts to the waste station.

Passive
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.

 

Footnotes

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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