Common Errors in English Usage: First Person

From Paul Brians’ book Common Errors in English Usage (which he generously makes available for free on the Washington State University website), here is a worksheet on using first-person voice in academic prose.

From my first English Composition course at a community college in Vermont to my master’s thesis at the University of Wisconsin, I always accepted as axiomatic that one does not use first-person pronouns in academic expository writing. In fact, while writing medical notes when I worked in a hospital, we were instructed by nursing managers to eschew the first-person pronoun in favor of referring to oneself as “this author,” as in “This author observed the patient…” etc. Moreover, teaching English at the secondary level, I continued to hew to this rule out of habit and deference the loosely held usage rules of the department.

Professor Brians, interestingly, urges writers to use the first person when it is appropriate–by which he apparently means along a fairly broad spectrum of usage in prose. I expect this will occasion some remark. That’s good, because one’s growth as a teacher certainly involves kicking around something like this. In any case, I wrote this worksheet with the idea that using the first-person pronouns is relatively easy, and not using them can be difficult. Accordingly, this work in this document calls upon students to rewrite ten sentences that are in the first person to eliminate that voice.

However, this worksheet is, like most of the downloadable material you will find on Mark’s Text Terminal, formatted in Microsoft Word, so you may do with it as your or your students’ needs require.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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