Can You Use Personal Pronouns in an Argumentative Essay?


In academic writing, using personal pronouns has long been debated. Traditional guidelines have discouraged their use in formal writing, particularly in argumentative essays. However, as language and communication evolve, so do writing conventions. This essay challenges the notion that personal pronouns have no place in argumentative essays and advocates for their reasonable and strategic use. 

By employing personal pronouns, we can foster a stronger connection between the writer and the reader, enhance our arguments’ overall clarity and impact, and inject a sense of authenticity into our writing. So, join me as we explore the potential benefits of incorporating personal pronouns into our argumentative essays, encouraging a more engaging and compelling reading experience.

What are Personal Pronouns, and Why Are They Controversial?

Personal pronouns refer to the speaker, the listener, or other people or things. For example, personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, and them. They can express opinions, emotions, preferences, experiences, or perspectives. For example:

  • I think that the death penalty should be abolished.
  • You have to study hard if you want to pass the exam.
  • He loves playing soccer on weekends.
  • She is a talented singer and songwriter.
  • It is raining outside.
  • We are going to the movies later.
  • They have a lot of homework to do.

Personal pronouns are controversial in academic writing because they can create a sense of bias, subjectivity, or informality. Some teachers and professors may think using personal pronouns can weaken your argument by making it sound like a personal opinion rather than a logical and evidence-based claim. They may also think using personal pronouns can make your writing too casual or conversational for a formal academic context. For example:

  • I think that the death penalty should be abolished. (This sounds like a personal opinion that may not be supported by facts or research.)
  • The death penalty should be abolished. (This general statement can be backed up by facts or research.)
  • You have to study hard if you want to pass the exam. (This sounds like direct advice or command that may not be appropriate for an academic audience.)
  • Students have to study hard if they want to pass the exam. (This is a general observation that applies to any student.)
  • He loves playing soccer on weekends. (This sounds like a specific and irrelevant detail that does not belong in an academic essay.)
  • Playing soccer on weekends can have positive effects on physical and mental health. (This is a general and relevant claim that can be supported by evidence.)

However, not all teachers and professors have the same opinion about personal pronouns. Some may allow or even encourage them in some instances, such as when you are writing from your own perspective or experience, addressing a specific audience or reader, or using them for rhetorical effect or emphasis. 

For example:

  • As a sociology student, I have learned that social norms and values vary across cultures and contexts. (This shows your position and background as a writer.)
  • You may wonder why this topic is vital for our society today. (This engages your reader and invites them to think about your question.)
  • They say that money can’t buy happiness, but is that true? (This uses a common expression to introduce a counterargument or challenge.)

How to Use Personal Pronouns Effectively in an Argumentative Essay?

There is no definitive answer to whether you can use personal pronouns in an argumentative essay. It depends on your purpose, audience, topic, discipline, and instructor’s preferences. However, here are some general tips on how to use them effectively:

  • Check your assignment guidelines and instructions carefully. If your teacher or professor explicitly states that you should avoid personal pronouns in your essay, follow their rules and use other ways to express your ideas. For example, you can use passive voice, impersonal constructions, nominalizations, or third-person nouns instead of personal pronouns. For example:
  •   I surveyed 100 students. (active voice with a personal pronoun)
  •   A survey was conducted among 100 students. (passive voice without personal pronoun)
  •   My research shows that social media harms academic performance. (personal construction with a personal pronoun)
  •  The research shows that social media harms academic performance. (impersonal construction without personal pronoun)
  •  Education is the key to success. (verb with a personal pronoun)
  •  Education is the key to success. (nominalization without personal pronoun)
  •  I interviewed three experts on this topic. (personal pronoun with a verb)
  •  Three experts were interviewed on this topic. (third-person noun with a verb)

How Can Personal Pronouns Affect the Persuasiveness of Your Argument?

When used strategically and purposefully, personal pronouns can significantly enhance an argument’s persuasiveness. Here are a few ways in which personal pronouns can have this impact:

  1. Establishing a personal connection: By incorporating personal pronouns such as “I” or “we,” the writer establishes a sense of shared experience and perspective with the reader. This fosters a stronger connection and allows the reader to relate more closely to the writer’s ideas and arguments. It creates a sense of authenticity and trust, making the argument more persuasive.
  2. Demonstrating expertise and credibility: Personal pronouns can highlight the writer’s expertise or personal experiences related to the topic. For example, using “I have personally witnessed” or “we have extensively researched” showcases the writer’s knowledge and credibility. By sharing their involvement, the writer establishes themselves as trustworthy sources, making their argument more persuasive.
  3. Engaging the reader’s emotions: Personal pronouns can help tap into the reader’s emotions, making the argument more compelling. Using pronouns like “you” or “your,” the writer directly addresses the reader, creating a sense of involvement and personal investment. This emotional connection can evoke empathy and a sense of urgency, making the argument more persuasive.
  4. Empowering the reader: By using inclusive personal pronouns like “we” or “us,” the writer positions the reader as an active participant in the argument. This inclusive language can empower readers, making them feel part of a collective effort or shared goal. They are more likely to be persuaded and motivated to take action.
  5. Enhancing clarity and conciseness: Personal pronouns can help streamline the flow of ideas and simplify sentence structures. By using pronouns like “he,” “she,” or “it” to refer to specific entities, the writer avoids repetitive noun usage and ensures a smoother reading experience. Clear and concise writing enhances the persuasiveness of the argument by allowing the reader to grasp and retain the main points more effectively.

Are Personal Pronouns in Academic Writing Style or Substance?

Personal pronouns in academic writing: a matter of style or substance? Let’s find out.

Style:

Personal pronouns can contribute to the overall style and tone of academic writing, making it more accessible and engaging.

  •    Example: “I argue that” instead of “The author argues that”
  •    Example: “We can conclude that” instead of “It can be concluded that”

Substance:

  • Personal pronouns can convey the author’s stance and assertiveness, reinforcing the argument’s strength and conviction.
  •  Example: “I firmly believe that” instead of “One could argue that”
  •  Example: “We have ample evidence to support” instead of “There is evidence to support”

Subjectivity:

  •  Personal pronouns can acknowledge the writer’s subjectivity and positionality, adding transparency to the argument.
  •  Example: “As an expert in the field, I have observed” instead of “Observations have shown”
  •  Example: “In my experience, I have found” instead of “It has been found”

Engagement:

  • Personal pronouns can connect with the reader, fostering engagement and a more substantial impact.
  •  Example: “You may be wondering” instead of “Readers may wonder”
  •  Example: “We can all agree that” instead of “It is widely agreed that”

Inclusivity:

  • Personal pronouns can promote inclusivity by acknowledging diverse perspectives and involving the reader in the argument.
  • Example: “We need to consider the perspectives of marginalized groups” instead of “The perspectives of marginalized groups need to be considered”
  • Example: “Let’s explore how we can address this issue together” instead of “The issue can be addressed collectively”

Clarity:

  • Personal pronouns help clarify relationships between ideas and referents, enhancing the overall coherence of the argument.
  • Example: “He refers to the study conducted by Smith” instead of “The author refers to the study conducted by Smith”
  • Example: “I will discuss this point further in the next section” instead of “This point will be discussed further in the next section”

Should I Use Personal Pronouns in an Argumentative Essay?

  • Using personal pronouns in an argumentative essay can enhance the writer’s connection with the reader, making the argument more persuasive. 

Examples:

  •    “I believe that climate change is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention.”
  •    “We can all play a role in reducing plastic waste by making small changes in our daily lives.”
  • Personal pronouns can help establish the writer’s expertise and credibility, strengthening the argument. 

Examples:

  •    “As a medical professional, I have witnessed the devastating impact of smoking on an individual’s health.”
  •    “Our research team has conducted extensive studies on renewable energy sources and found them to be a viable solution.”
  • Addressing the reader directly with personal pronouns can engage their emotions and make the argument more compelling. 

Examples:

  •    “Imagine the future we can create if we embrace sustainable practices and protect our environment.”
  •    “You have the power to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Together, we can build a more compassionate society.”
  • Inclusive personal pronouns can empower the reader and foster a sense of collective responsibility. 

Examples:

  •    – “Let’s join forces to fight against inequality and ensure equal opportunities for all.”
  •    – “We must take a stand against discrimination and promote a society that celebrates diversity.”
  • Using personal pronouns strategically can enhance clarity and conciseness in the essay.

Examples:

  •    “When considering the evidence, it becomes clear that vaccination is crucial in preventing the spread of infectious diseases.”
  •    “In my experience, volunteering benefits the community and brings immense personal fulfillment.”

In summary, personal pronouns can be practical tools in an argumentative essay, enabling the writer to connect with the reader, establish credibility, engage emotions, empower the audience, and enhance clarity. Strategic use of personal pronouns can make the essay more persuasive and impactful.

5 Reasons to Avoid Personal Pronouns in an Argumentative Essay

  1. Objectivity: Using personal pronouns in an argumentative essay can introduce subjective elements and personal bias. By avoiding personal pronouns, the writer maintains a more objective tone, presenting factual evidence and logical reasoning rather than personal opinions or experiences.
  2. Professionalism: Formal writing conventions often discourage using personal pronouns to maintain a professional tone. By adhering to these guidelines, the writer demonstrates higher academic rigor and credibility.
  3. Focus on the topic: By omitting personal pronouns, the writer directs the reader’s attention solely to the subject. This allows for a more focused and coherent presentation of arguments and evidence without the distraction of personal narratives or perspectives.
  4. Universality: A key goal of argumentative writing is to persuade a wide range of readers, including those with differing viewpoints or backgrounds. Avoiding personal pronouns helps to create a sense of universality, making the essay more inclusive and applicable to a broader audience.
  5. Emphasis on evidence: Removing personal pronouns emphasizes the evidence and logic supporting the argument. It shifts the focus to objective facts, research findings, expert opinions, and logical reasoning, reinforcing the strength of the argument rather than relying on personal anecdotes or beliefs.

It is important to note that the decision to use or avoid personal pronouns depends on the specific requirements of the assignment, the desired tone, and the intended audience. Ultimately, the writer should consider these factors and choose the approach that best aligns with their goals and the essay’s context.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, choosing personal pronouns depends on your purpose, audience, and discipline. For more clarification, consult your instructor or a professional writing service like Dissertation Consulting Company Writing Services for guidance and assistance.

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