What are the biggest writing mistakes that students make? Educator Summer Dittmer has put together a series of videos, based on her experiences in helping students and adults learn how to improve their writing skills. These videos provide quick yet valuable lessons on what NOT to do when writing an academic paper.
First up: never use 1st or 2nd person.
Watch the video (2:29):
Or read along:
The #1 Writing No-No is to never use 1st or 2nd person.
Why? In academic writing, it’s important to avoid personal bias. Using “I” or “we” makes the essay about you and your experiences, instead of research and concrete details.
Before I give examples, let’s review the 1st person. 1st person uses I or We, as in “I am upset” and “We ran away.” Also stay away from using me, us, my, mine or ours.
Let’s also take a quick look at 2nd person. Second person uses you and your. When you use 2nd person point of view, you are directly addressing the reader, kind of like I am doing right now. While this is okay when writing a personal letter, it is not okay in formal writing, especially essays or research papers. Avoid using this pronoun at all costs because you never want to communicate directly with the reader.
Students often ask, “How can I use a hypothetical question as a hook to begin my essay if I can’t even use YOU?” My answer is simple: you never want to use a hypothetical question in an essay either. An academic…aka YOU, who uses 2nd person, has not only written too informally, but he or she has also missed the target audience. YOU indicates that you’re writing for the teacher only, but in an analysis or even just a book report, the student is writing for a broad audience.
My basic rule is this: First is the Worst...Second’s not the Best...Third is the Way You Can Pass the Test.
Let’s apply this rule to a few examples:
- Instead of “I cannot believe how much tuition has increased,” try, “Tuition has drastically increased.”
- Instead of “Don’t text while you drive,” try, “Don’t text and drive.”
Students are so used to using I, my, we, you and your, that they have a hard time weeding them out of their papers. So, here is my tip of the day: Every writing program, like Microsoft Word, has a search function. Do a simple word search for each of the ones listed here [show visual of word list]. Once you see them, shift your point of view.
Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.
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