The Trouble with "I"

Students often say their high school teachers told them to never use "I" in their papers. I'm not sure I agree, but the problem for high school teachers may be an annoying inundation of "I" constructions, "I think this" and "I believe that" coupled with the uninformed "I" analysis written by teenagers who have been told that they are "entitled to their own opinion." Well, that's just fine, as long as it is an informed opinion and not just an opinion based on some tingling nerve ending.

But is using "I" really bad?

In the Spring 2011 issue of Inside English Charles Hood of Antelope Valley College asks "Why do Students use "I" Appropriately in Speech and Yet so Badly in Papers?" Here are four kinds of student "I" uses that he found ineffective:

The Invisible Man I. That is, there is no human agency in the paper; instead sentences (often fragments) appear out of the ether, passively imply some situation or potential action, then disappear, never to be owned or directed by any named source of potency.

The inane I. "I think Elvis was a famous singer." You don't think this, everybody thinks this.

The Narcissists' I. "This is my paper. In this paper I will do such and such. I have thought about this a lot and I have a lot of sources. I will then do such and such." As Hood remarks, "Just Do It."

The Shoot Yourself in the Foot I. AKA honesty is not always the best policy. Those I-voice papers that (in essence) reveal that the author hates books, did no homework, and has zero interest in the topic at hand. They often start out: "I don't like English."

So what should a student do?

Hood recommends a "nuanced, logical application of I . . . . It is okay to use [I] if it is a vital part of the thing that is being discussed." Furthermore, he believes students should "step forward and sing," while instructors listen to student voices.

Students need to be able to take a chance with their informed "I" opinions. But something students should keep in mind, is that the overuse of any word or construction is annoying to any reader. Think about it? If you had to read paper after paper where every other sentence began with "I", you'd get annoyed too. So don't weaken your argument by inserting yourself with twenty "I"s on a page. Remember, you are writing college papers to make a point -- your point -- so, use a strong "I" where appropriate.

"The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone." ~Henrik Ibsen


  1. The problem when writing with "I" is oftentimes a student doesn't know when it's appropriate or inappropriate to use it. They want to make sure their voice is heard and that it is clear what they are saying is in their own opinion, not something they are plagiarizing or basing off of actual proof. The use of "I" isn't bad in itself, but it is the abuse that drives a reader crazy.

    The first step one should take when writing an essay, an email, or whatever they could be writing while using "I" is write it out as they think sounds right then follow it up with a quick read-through for editorial purposes. As they do their read-through, the student should take out any unnecessary "I," vary the use (instead of "I," say "we" or "they"), or completely revise the sentence to make the usage of "I" strong.

    This is a process I often use and have found it to be effective and helpful. (:

  2. I wonder that if I do not use "I", what is an other word I can use? It is possible to use "We" but it does not mean the right sense. "I" is the right word to express and use for anywhere, not only highschool or college but it also identifies the affirmation of personal right

  3. Using "I" in papers isn't necessarily a bad thing, I think it's just most students don't really know when to use it and when they've over-killed it. I did have teachers in high school that told me to avoid using it, and we lost points if we used it, so I can understand where the whole, not wanting to use it comes from. "I" just states your opinion though, and you don't really need to use it every other sentence.

    I find that when I try to write papers, I tend to use as much variation as I can with my sentences because I know if I had to read a paper where every sentence was, "I know this. I think this. I think very well and strongly on this subject", I would probably go crazy. Using "I" in papers isn't a bad thing, but the constant reuse of it over and over again is just tedious and makes your writing seem weaker than it can be. "I" is just the opinion you have and you can use it where it applies, but you don't need to bash your reader over the head with it. Just get your point across without taking away from your paper.

  4. When writting any paper or essay that may envoke your own opinion, I think it is important to use "I" and shouldn't be discouraged at all in the classroom.By using "I" emphasizes that you agree with a statement that an author for example made. The reason that some teachers may not want their students to use "I" is because "I" many students over use it and tend to focus on them, rather then then analyzing what their trying to prove with their thesis or go on a tangent, which I ,myself sometimes tend to do.

  5. The usage of "I" in a paper creates a more comfortable feeling for the reader to follow along. Teachers who deprive student from using it on an essay take away a fundamental style of writing from them. Student generate thoughts all the time and writing it on paper is a great way for them to express themselves.

  6. It was really like that in high school with some of my english teachers throughout the years, they wouldn't want us using the word "I" which made no sence when the paper had to do about anything having our opinion. I thought it was hard trying to figure what to write instead or how to word what I had to say, maybe it's not impossible but it sure is very difficult. Being collage I haven't heard that "rule"; however, I know that using the word "I" too much isn't good either. I haven't been counting how many "I's" I've wrote but I know I have many, thats because I'm explaining my belief on a certain topic.

  7. In high school my AP English teacher always said never use "i" it is your paper so using 'I" is just a waste of space and very repetitive. I agree it is our paper so it should clearly be our own voice speaking. I don't think it's a bad thing but it does get repetitive and doesn't flow all too well. To better this problem students should write down "i think" and then once they are done take it off. It's the way I learned and I think it works very well.

  8. I believe "I" should obviously be allowed in opinion papers and possibly some other essays if and only if it adds to the essay. Personal encounters may add to the persuasiveness of your essay. I understand why teachers in high school say to not use it because the majority of essays are logical and factual and personal input does not necessary matter, if anything it may take away from the essay. An over-use of the word "I" may reduce the validity of facts, opinions in most cases do not matter. However it might grab the attention of a reader if a small inference is made in the intro or conclusion of an essay.


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