November 22, 2008

It's All About You - so please use "I"

I am a firm believer in using personal pronouns while writing essays, and I don't mean that bullshit "We." stuff. Use I. Own what your writing and that it is you who thinks that, not some amorphous being. It's you. Don't write, "This paper will argue that democracy is a superior form of government," write, "I will argue that democracy is a superior form of government." If you think it, admit it. We need accountability. We can't naturalize our ideas by pretending they have nothing to do with our own feelings or personal biases. That's academic cowardice!

This doesn't mean you shouldn't do your research. That's not what I'm saying. All I'm saying is, do lots of research, site your sources, be insightful, but never forget that you are the one writing the essay, deciding which sources to use and which to exclude, deciding what thesis the sources you include point and then structuring your essay to prove that. Academic work is never innocent. We have to be honest and self-reflexive about that, and one way to do so is to remind yourself that you're the one writing the paper every few sentences by saying, "I argue that," instead of "This paper argues that."

It's you writing, baby. Not some Adam Smith-like academic invisible hand, and don't you forget it.

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