Why You Should Not Use “I” in Your Essay



It is amazing to see how many students do not fully read essay instructions and guidelines in either their syllabus or their paper assignments. One of the directives that all of my students have is to NEVER use I in their paper, as it is not an opinion piece but an argument that needs to be supported by facts, not opinions.

The biggest question I get is, “Why can’t I use I? It is my opinion.” I take a moment to explain to the students that while obviously their opinion counts, writing an academic paper is more than just giving an opinion. It is setting forth an argument and backing it up with concrete examples.

The terms “I think” and “I really liked” do not lend themselves to concrete examples. I do my best to explain that thinking and feeling is great while you are having a conversation with a friend or family member, but if your grade depends on it, you need to take your opinion far more seriously.

Instead of writing:

I really liked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

You can be taken more seriously by figuring out how to claim that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a popular film and others liked it as well.

You could write:

If there was ever a doubt as to how popular The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was upon its 1974 release, then perhaps a look at the franchise of comic books, sequels and video games it created should be sufficient evidence…

As an instructor, obviously the second choice makes more sense. If I have to be convinced in a paper that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a cultural influence in the United States, or simply that it was popular for its time, I would be convinced with the first sentence of the second choice. I would in no way be convinced by the first sentence, “I really liked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Please remember, if you are writing a paper in a class, you most likely must prove a point. Feelings cannot prove facts in a paper. Only clear evidence can prove facts.


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