Should writers avoid using personal language?

This post was written as a very long footnote for the article: Truth is Reality; Reality is Truth.

Summary of the Debate

For some reason, somebody decided that in formal writing, you can’t involve the reader or yourself in the writing. You can’t say “I” this, or “you” that, or “we” whatever! This I find rather strange because the reader and the writer are the two things that are the most involved in a written work. The subject matter is just what the writer happens to be telling the reader.

Advocates of formal writing tell us that the reason they don’t use personal pronouns is to make sure individual bias or viewpoint doesn’t stain their arguments. They say that when someone is thinking socially or culturally by including a personal pronoun like “we,” or when someone is talking about things in a self-focused way by using “I,” bad logic abounds. But, altering natural speech like this does not seem to accomplish this goal at all.

The Problem

When you take the reader out of writing, it becomes impersonal and distant. Like it wasn’t written for anyone at all. Maybe this habit is why so many formal articles are rather… dull. In speaking about formal scientific writing having no personal pronouns, an author for the Scientific American said, “…the result is that experiments seem to unfold tidily and timelessly, making the scientific process appear foreordained – and boring.”1

They make an excellent point. When things are spoken about in a way that is disconnected from people, those things have no story and are therefore irrelevant. This is because things that have no story—no plot line into the future—cannot change anything. I also loved how they said, “Most scientific articles are so impenetrable that even scientists cringe to read them.”

My “Personal” Response

That is why in this article about truth, I’m writing with personal pronouns. Not to include you so that you feel a warm fuzzy connection to me and then want to listen to everything that I say. But to include you so you know that I wrote this for you to read, no matter who you are.

You don’t have to follow me along this whole journey of thought, and you don’t have to go to all the places I want to take you. However, by inviting you with the words “we,”  “you,” and any other applicable personal pronoun, I hope that you will know that you are invited to join me.


1 I recommend that you read the rest of this article if you are interested in the history of no personal pronouns in formal works.

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