Why are pronouns important in academic writing?
This is the third and final lesson about Pronouns. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Review the eight types of pronoun in English and how they relate to academic contexts
– Explore tips and strategies for using pronouns correctly in academic essays and presentations
– Complete Lesson Worksheets to check progress and understanding and improve proficiency
Now that we’ve identified and explored the eight types of pronoun in English (Lesson 1) and have discussed the six most important rules for using them correctly in general environments (Lesson 2), this third and final lesson in our short course focuses on their accurate use in formal academic contexts. Whether you’re submitting a written essay or are doing a presentation for your tutor or class, it’s always a good idea to get your pronoun use right. Thankfully, the following three tips will help you do just that.
Which pronoun types are common in EAP?
First, let’s remind ourselves of the eight pronoun types introduced in Lesson 1. The chart below highlights how likely a student is to use certain pronouns in academic contexts. The more ticks you see (ü), the higher the frequency of use:
However, this table alone doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. While the personal pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ might be very uncommon in essays, for example, the pronoun ‘it’ is used frequently in academic expressions such as ‘it is known’ or ‘it is argued’. To learn more deeply about the use of pronouns in academic English, we’ve therefore added three tips below for you to consider and apply.
Tip 1: Avoid Personal Pronouns
At universities around the world, EAP tutors will likely inform their students that personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’ should be avoided in academic assignments. However, while this rule is true to a certain degree, it is not 100% the case. Some assignments may require the use of personal language, for example, such as reflective pieces, and published sources like textbooks and journal articles may occasionally use personal pronouns too.
Ultimately, the truth is that academic language aims to be highly objective, and so the reduction of subjective language through the limitation of personal pronouns is for the most part a reliable piece of advice. With this in mind, we’ve identified four strategies for achieving this below.
Strategy 1: Focus on the Evidence
Instead of phrases such as ‘I believe’, ‘I agree’ or ‘I am convinced that’ which relate to the writer subjectively, students can reduce their personal language by selecting phrases which instead focus on the experiment, results, evidence or literature:
Strategy 3: Use ‘It’ Phrases
Similarly, ‘it’ phrases, many of which are used with passive constructions, are another helpful strategy for avoiding ‘I’, ‘you’ and other personal pronouns:
Strategy 4: Remove Personal Language
Finally, one simple strategy is to remove personal language altogether. By editing and proofreading your writing carefully, you should be able to see if there’s any personal language that can be deleted without significantly changing the meaning:
Tip 2: Reduce Ambiguity
The second tip relates to reducing ambiguity in your writing. Because pronouns are often used to refer back to previously mentioned noun phrases, it’s important that this reference is perfectly clear. A lack of clarity may briefly confuse your reader and cause them to reread that sentence, reducing the coherence of your text. To see this ambiguity in action, take a look at the following two examples. In (1), it’s unclear whether ‘it’ refers to ‘smoking’ or ‘air pollution’, while in (2) the reader cannot tell if ‘they’ references ‘the government’ or ‘smoking and air pollution’:
This could be fixed by more carefully selecting an appropriate pronoun:
Because the use of personal pronouns such as ‘they’ and demonstrative pronouns such as ‘this’ and ‘these’ also lack specificity, (1) and (2) are, however, still not perfectly unambiguous. To look at another example, it’s not clear for the reader in (3) whether the demonstrative ‘this’ refers to the increase or to the decrease:
Similarly, in (4), ‘these’ could be referring to the government’s policies or conversely to the positive effects of those policies. Thankfully, by using ‘this’ and ‘these’ as determiners instead of pronouns, we can use them to pre-modify a noun phrase and form expressions such as ‘this increase’ or ‘these policies’ that increase clarity:
Tip 3: Select Personal Pronouns Carefully
Because personal pronouns do sometimes need to be included in an academic text such as during a reflective writing or lab report, the following bullet points may help when the previous strategies are unable:
- be consistent with your pronoun use and point-of-view: do not alternate between using the first person (‘I’, ‘my’, ‘we’, ‘our’) and the third person (‘the researcher’, ‘the author’) when referring to yourself throughout a text
- avoid gender bias with male and female pronouns: while older texts may use masculine pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘him’ to show gender neutrality, this is outdated; instead, students are recommended to use the neutral ‘they/their/them’ in both plural and singular contexts wherever possible
- use ‘one’ instead of ‘we’ or ‘you’: when offering generalisations, if you cannot be specific about the group to which you are referring and require a referential pronoun, consider using ‘one’ and ‘they’ to make that generalisation, as in ‘one should study hard if they wish to pass’
Well done on completing this short course on pronouns. Don’t forget to unlock, download and complete our Lesson 1-3 worksheets to check your knowledge and progress and to improve your general and academic English.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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