How to Replace 'I' in essays and formal writing

Last Updated: 17 August 2023

Using I in an essay and alternative words to use instead

You have probably written personal essays, admission essays, memoirs, or narrative essays that call for using first-person pronouns. Writing such personal essays without using "I," "we," "my," "us," and "you," among others, is practically impossible and sometimes very challenging. Nevertheless, when writing academic essays that require research, critical thinking, and a formal tone, the use of a first-person perspective becomes taboo.

For many college students, confusion looms because first-person pronouns are technically prohibited when writing middle and high school essays. Therefore, we can say this early that although you can use first-person pronouns in academic essays, you have to restrict it only to some types of essays and writing perspectives, as discussed widely in this guide.

Using personal experience or person pronouns does not mean you have weak writing skills. We explore everything you need to know about using first-person pronouns in academic essays, when to and when not to use them, and alternatives to utilize instead of "I," "we," and "you."

We will also answer areas surrounding giving opinions or introducing arguments using "I think/believe/forecast/hold" and "I argue/opine/contend," respectively.

Why is using Person Pronouns a Taboo in Formal Writing?

Using person pronouns "I," "we," and "you" in an essay is discouraged in formal writing unless necessary because it makes an essay sound subjective, personal, unofficial, or informal, and not critical.

More often than not, academic essays that use personal pronouns are subjective in that the writer's perspective reigns over what experts or scholars in the field have discovered or advised.

Again, using personal pronouns also makes your readers get bored easily. As the writer is at the center of every argument, the flow of ideas is lacking in such essays.

At the same time, the tone of such essays is show-off or bragging, especially if you are too subjective and blind to scholarly findings. Citing essays written in a personal perspective or tone is also not easy.

It is easy to plagiarize other people"s ideas when writing an essay in the first person. There are also high chances of repetition and redundancy, making reading and marking such essays difficult.

Deciding when to use "I" based on academic field conventions

As you may have rightfully discovered, some academic fields outrightly permit using the first person when writing essays.

The rules about the use of first-person pronouns change continuously. Therefore, students must consult their instructor on whether to use the first-person perspective. However, the following guidelines can also assist you in deciding when to use "I."


The use of "I" in humanities essays will depend on the view of your instructor. Humanity subjects essays often offer personal language analysis, artwork, or ideas.

Writers in this discipline tend to emphasize agency and value assertiveness. Therefore, the first person is used appropriately in many instances. 

In many cases, writers may apply the first person less effectively, following assertion phrases such as "I believe," "I feel," and "I think" to manifest real argument defense. Though your audience is interested in your view about the field, they expect you to support, argue, and elaborate your assertions fully.

Personal suggestions do not support your view; you require concrete evidence to convince the audience. Technically, this means blending in some scholars' concepts, facts, and opinions and citing them altogether.

Social sciences

Generally, several social scientists shun the use of the first person, probably because scientists also ignore it. It leads to a subjective perspective or tone and conflicts with the ideals of scientific writing. However, using the first person is persistently accepted in social sciences, especially when describing a personal perspective or project. You can use the first person when writing an internship report, reflection essay, and other papers if allowed to do so by your instructor.


Scientific writers eschewed the application of "I" in the past because they considered the first person affects the impersonality and objectivity impression they intend to create. However, conventions seem to transform over time. For example, when you describe a particular project you are working on or link the project with the existing research topic. In this case, you must check with your instructor to determine whether you can use the first person.

Other writings

Several writing situations apply first person. For example, speech writing uses the first and second person to create a desirable relationship between the listener and the speaker. However, when writing a resume, you should ignore the use of the first person and describe your education. Skills and experience without employing personal pronouns.

Instances that permit the use of the first person in an academic essay

You are allowed to write your essay in the first person. However, that has a limit beyond which punitive measures will apply. You might lose a good grade because you did not follow instructions.

Again, always read your prompt before planning and writing an essay. It helps clarify various conventions to be observed and those to be bypassed.

After all, the main audience of your essay is your tutor, professor, or instructor, so their say matters more.

Clarification of passive constructions

As a writer, when you ignore the use of the first person in academic essays, you may create confusing and passive sentences. Using the first person is sometimes critical in making your essay clearer.

For example, when writing an essay about word processing automation, you want to elaborate on the point that you are employing Microsoft Word to write your paper. If you try to ignore first-person pronouns, the sentences might read, "Right now, this paper is being written in Microsoft Word."

Even though this statement is correct, it is passive in nature- the subject is acted upon, and there is no action in the sentence. However, the sentence "Right now, I am writing this paper in Microsoft Word "sounds better to many people.

When you analyze the two sentences, you will find that the second sentence is clearer, and this is due to the application of the first-person pronouns. Generally, the use of the first person is vital in improving the clarity of the sentence.

Defining your view about other positions

Argumentative essays sometimes provide you with an opportunity to define your opinion concerning the topic. This dimension is critical in informing your audience about your stand. Therefore, it is sometimes vital to put your personal opinion in the essay.

As stated in the point above, as an essay writer, you can imagine the clarity of your sentence in case you omit the first-person pronoun. So an important hint here is applying personal pronouns to clear and sounding sentences that make your points clear.

Developing your credibility

Credibility is defined by ethos is an ancient Greece word that means character in the sense of credibility.

A writer can create ethos by convincing the reader that he or she is a credible source. The best way to create ethos is to become personal to a certain extent- inform the reader about yourself.

For example, when you are writing an argumentative essay about dance as a sport. Using personal pronouns occasionally to inform your audience that you are a skilled dancer and that you have scars and muscles to prove it will establish your ethos and prove your argument.

Generally, the use of the first person will not annoy or distract your audience because it is reasonable.

Incorporating personal anecdote

An anecdote refers to a strong hook that is used in an essay to attract the reader's attention in your essay introduction. The best hook involves an existing story about yourself or a personal anecdote in many cases.

Therefore, in this case, using the personal pronoun is unnatural; your audience will be excited with your personal touch that can convince them to explore your essay. Using the first-person pronoun in creating anecdotes in an essay introduction is one of the ideal instances in academic essay writing.

The instances that we listed above are not exhaustive. We recommend that you use personal judgment and consult your instructor when you agree not certain about their perspective concerning using the first-person pronoun.

Ultimately, it is fine to use the first person when you feel it will serve a purpose or convey strategic influence on your readers. However, it is important not to overuse the first person because it may lead to a self-centered essay.

How to avoid using "I" in an essay

Sometimes your instructor may be categorical on the use of personal pronouns like "I," "we," and "You" in your essay. Many students have been asking how to avoid using "I" in an essay.

Writing without using the first person can be cumbersome for some students. In addition, it is sometimes challenging to get alternatives to personal clauses. Nonetheless, there are numerous ways to avoid this problem in your essay writing, especially when instructed not to use a personal pronoun.

Practicing the following methods will introduce you to the guidelines of formal academic writing and assist you in producing an exemplary essay.

1. Follow General Rules

Below are some suggestions on avoiding the deliberate use of first-person pronouns in formal writing.

2.  Get an alternative to the first-person point of view

Personal Pronouns in Academic Writing

Personal pronouns can be employed to replace places, people, or things to make the sentences shorter and clearer.

Personal pronouns comprise I, it, we, she, he, you, and they.

Your personal pronoun preference predicts whether your paper is in the third person or the first person.

Second Person (You)

The second person pronoun is least used in academic writing, and it addresses the audience directly. In many cases, it is regarded as chatty and, therefore, commonly avoided in academic writing. However, the second person is used in writing presentations where the readers are addressed directly.

When are you required to use the second person?

This is one of the questions that many students have asked. The second person is used to offer advice, explain, or give directions. It permits the author to connect with the readers by concentrating on the audience directly. It includes pronouns such as "you," "yours," and "your."

When should you avoid the use of the second person?

This is one of the questions that many students ask. Unfortunately, writing your essay in second person perspective can lead to ineffective arguments and research papers.

Using second papers can make the essay sound like the writer is persuading or advising the audience. consequently, the use of second-person perspective is avoided in many academic essay writings except when ideal guidelines are provided by your instructor that allows its use.

As a writer, you should avoid using the second person to ensure compelling arguments and research papers rather than persuasive and advising papers.

How to avoid using second person

One common guideline for writing academic papers is avoiding the second person. This is because formal academic papers are not intended to address the audience directly. However, many students find s it challenging to write an essay without the inclusion of the second person pronouns because the second person is one of the main components of speech. There are numerous ways of refraining from using the second person without interfering with the meaning of your text. The following are some of the tips that can assist you in overcoming this challenge.

Apply the word "one."

The word "one" can be used to replace you in many sentences without sacrificing the meaning of the sentence. For example:

Use somebody or someone

Somebody or someone is a third-person perspective that can be used to replace the second person without interfering with the meaning of the sentence. For example:

Replace You with the word people

In many cases, the use of the word people serves to replace the second person better without changing the meaning of the sentence in your essay. For example:

Reconstruct the sentence

in some instances, it is possible to rearrange your sentence to eliminate the second person without affecting the meaning of the sentence. For example:

Eliminate the unnecessary second person

Unnecessary use of a second person is common in most academic essays. This makes the sentence sound vague and advising in nature. Therefore, it is vital to peruse through your work and eliminate the unnecessary second person. For example:


We as a personal pronoun is commonly used in instances where co-authors write the paper. In most cases, students use we to refer to all historians, humankind, historians. However, this should be avoided as possible because it makes the audience guess your reference. It is recommended to use a noun instead of a pronoun in this perspective. Also, you can switch to third person   

Third-person (she, he, her, it, her, its)

The third-person point of view is applied in scientific writings. It involves the use of indefinite pronouns to refer to the subject. 

However, the rule is not n stringent, and there are several exceptions. For example, employing the first person in introductions, discussions, conclusions, and abstracts is acceptable. However, the use of "I" in this case is still not allowed, and as a writer, you should use "we" to describe the group of researchers who took part in the study.

The third person is used to write results and methods sections. As a writer, it is crucial to maintain consistency, and switching from one point to another within the parts of your text can be discouraging and distracting.

It is always the best idea to check your assignment guidelines to make sure your piece is free from nanny grammatical errors that might result from inappropriate third-person pronouns.

Avoiding personal pronouns in academic writing

Students, in many instances, are advised to avoid using personal pronouns when writing academic essays. However, this rule is not permanent, and it depends on the supervisor's preference.

When you write your essay, you should make sure that you withdraw the reader's attention rather than yourself. Generally, when you are writing an academic essay, you should be professional. Using personal pronouns makes your essay sound personal, making it more informal. The following strategies can help you avoid using the personal pronoun in your essay writing.

Use passive voice to replace pronouns

As we stated earlier, the use of personal pronouns such as "I," "You," and "We" can make your essay sound informal in most instances.

Employing passive voice in place of these pronouns may deem your essay formal. Therefore, as a student, you should avoid these pronouns as possible and instead employ passive voice.

Employ third-person perspective

The third person is an ideal perspective that you can use to replace the first-person and second-person points of view. In addition, the use of the third person is significant in elevating the formality of your essay.

When to use personal pronouns in formal academic writing

Formal academic writing demonstrates impression and knowledge of the topic to the audience. It incorporates information that displays the writer's respect to the audience and indicates the seriousness of the writer concerning the topic.

The use of the personal pronoun in formal academic writing is not common. However, they are allowed in tasks that require the inclusion of personal information.

First-person pronouns

It is advisable not to use first-person pronouns in your formal essay because they can make your paper wordy. In addition, this reveals that the writer is less confident in expressing the ideas, resulting in an informal tone in the essay.

Moreover, the use of the first person will discourage your readers, making them speculate that you are using your thoughts. Therefore, in this context, you should avoid expressions such as I believe, in my opinion, or I think.

Second person pronoun

Using the second person in your essay affects the formality of your essay. It can bring false assumptions to an essay. To ensure your essay is formal, you can replace the second person with third-person perspectives.

Third-person pronouns

Third-person pronouns are the best choice in most college or academic writing. However, they can be sued in writing research reports and formal essays. Therefore, they are used to replace the first and second-person points of view.


Essays involve evaluating the topic, and I rely on the writer's experience and ideas rather than researched information. The second person does not imply because the essay entails the writer's thoughts and not the audience's thoughts. Using the second person indicates the reader's thoughts, especially when the reader is your instructor.

Additionally, using the first person is unnecessary because the reader can easily speculate that the points addressed in the essay are the writer's perspectives. After all, the writer's name is indicated in writing.

Research reports

Research report involves writers" analysis of other sources. When writing research reports, the use of the third person is critical in providing concrete evidence to the paper. The use of the third person in writing research reports assists the writer to credit other people"s perspectives concerning the topic. For example:

In instances where the source is not accredited, the reader may assume that those are the writer's thoughts without the use of the first-person pronoun. Generally, the use of third-person pronouns is vital in ensuring the formality of academic writing.

Related Read: How to write a perfect narrative essay.

How to express the personal experience in your academic writing

The role of personal experience in academic writing depends on your paper's purpose and context. 

Papers that seek to evaluate data or objective principles as in anthropology reduce the use of personal experience because they may distract the writer from the purpose of the paper.

Nonetheless, you may need to explain your stand as a researcher based on your topic in some cases.

Personal experiences can be used to explain how theory or idea is applied or apply the experience as a proof or demonstration of a certain principle.

Overall, personal experience plays a legitimate role in academic writing. Applying personal experience effectively means presenting your argument rather than making it the end of your paper.

Additionally, it is critical to keep your hypothetical stories concise. However, they can support arguments required for vitality and concrete illustrations.

Below are some different ways to use personal experience as part of your academic writing:

Discipline-Specific Suggestions on Incorporating personal experience in your academic writing

Let"s explore how different disciplines allow you to incorporate personal experiences when writing a formal paper.


Religion permits the use of personal experience in most cases. Nevertheless, many religion courses involve a textual, historical, or cultural approach that requires impersonality and objectivity.

Therefore, despite possessing powerful experiences or strong beliefs in this discipline, they could not support scholarly analysis.

But it would help if you asked your instructor to confirm whether you can include personal experiences, especially in response papers

Women"s studies

Women"s studies are taught from feminist perspectives. This perspective is interested in the manner in which women perceive gender roles.

In this case, personal experience can be used as evidence for argumentative and analytical papers in this discipline.

Also, in this field, you can be asked to maintain writing that necessitates the application of theoretical concepts derived from your experiences.


As we explained earlier, science as a discipline involves the study of fixed principles and data objectively. Therefore, including personal experiences is minimized as possible in this type of writing.

When you write lab reports, you must primarily describe observations so that the audience can redo the experiment.

Consequently, providing minimal information is effective. However, when you are working on case studies in social sciences, including people's personal experiences may be the fundamental part of these writings.


The analysis of the historical period does not require the inclusion of personal experience because it is less likely to advance your intended objectivity.

But some historical scholarship presumes the investigation of individual histories. Therefore, though you may not reference your individual experience, you may as well discuss the illustrations of people's historical experiences.

Literature, fine arts, Film, and Music

In most cases, including personal experience is vital in writing projects in this field. For example, personal experience is vital in response paper or any assignment that enquires about your experience as a viewer or reader.

Many literature and film scholars are concerned with how their audience perceives their literary work. Therefore, the discussion about the viewers, or audience's personal experience is appropriate.

Also, personal experience plays an integral part in this field because it provides the writers with hints on how to improve and make the changes that conform to the reader's requirements.


Philosophical writings involve evaluating and constructing existing arguments or developing personal arguments. In most instances, doing this efficiently incorporates the presentation of hypothetical illustrations or examples.

In this scenario, you may find that recounting or inventing your experience can assist in the demonstration of your point.

Personal experience may play an integral role in philosophical papers as much as you consistently explain to the audience the relationship between your experience and your argument.

As a student, your decisions on the use of personal experience will be controlled by the type of discipline that your paper belongs to. Moreover, the instructor's choice is also very fundamental in writing a particular paper. Therefore, it is critical to check with your instructor to be sure whether to include a personal experience or not.  

Which personal pronouns to use? Third (it) or First (I)

Generally, your choice of the type of personal pronoun to use in your academic writing depends on your discipline or the nature of your assignment.

Final Remarks

As you set out to write your essay, you are likely to wonder when to use and when to avoid using personal pronouns like "I," "You," and "My" in an essay. Although using personal pronouns is allowed in formal academic writing conventions, there is a limit.

Although there are different types of essays, each formatted differently, they mostly use a third-person tone. It is a preferred way of doing things in the scholarly realm to make it objective, reasonable, and credible. Using the first person can increase concreteness and authority in your essay, which might be impersonal and vague.

We have discussed, at length, alternatives to use instead of personal pronouns, when to use personal pronouns, and how to weave in personal perspective when writing an essay or other academic papers, and we are confident your questions are answered.

Thus far, we advise that you maintain a formal tone and language when writing academic essays. Most importantly, consult with your instructor or professor before writing an essay, which is great if you read the prompt and are still confused.