Personal And Impersonal Statements 2000

Using Impersonal Language1

Characteristically, academic writing has an objective tone: that is, the language of a written text sounds independent from the writer and reader. An objective tone can be achieved through the use of impersonal language. Using impersonal language requires you, as the writer, to avoid characteristics of personal language such as:

using personal pronouns such as 'I', 'we', 'you', 'our', 'us' to refer to yourself or the reader

I agree with Edmund's (1987) perspective that our way of dealing with stress can be unproductive.

using judgemental words that indicate your feelings about a subject

I am convinced by Carroll's (1996) conclusion that Australian architecture requires innovation, yet I dislike the way he has ignored residential design in order to reach this conclusion.

using words that are emotive.

The conditions are appalling and account, to a large extent, for the terrible morbidity and mortality statistics of this community.

 

Look at the model texts. One cause of the difference in formality between the two texts is the use of impersonal language.

 

FORMAL TEXT 
The inequity in the distribution of wealth in Australia is yet another indicator of Australia's lack of egalitarianism. In 1995, 20% of the Australian population owned 72.2% of Australia's wealth with the top 50% owning 92.1% (Raskall, 1998: 287). Such a significant skew in the distribution of wealth indicates that, at least in terms of economics, there is an established class system in Australia. McGregor (1988) argues that Australian society can be categorised into three levels: the Upper, Middle and Working classes. In addition, it has been shown that most Australians continue to remain in the class into which they were born (McGregor, 1988: 156) despite arguments about the ease of social mobility in Australian society (Fitzpatrick, 1994). The issue of class and its inherent inequity, however, is further compounded by factors such as race and gender within and across these class divisions.

The relative disadvantage of women with regard to their earnings and levels of asset ownership indicates that within classes there is further economic inequity based on gender...
Impersonal subject used to start sentence



Evidence introduced with impersonal language


INFORMAL TEXT 
Because only a few people have most of the money and power in Australia, I conclude that it is not an equal society. Society has an Upper, Middle and Lower class and I think that most people when they are born into one class, end up staying in that class for their whole lives. When all three classes are looked at more closely, other things such as the differences between the sexes and people's racial backgrounds also add to the unequal nature of Australian society.

Women earn less than men and own less than men. Why is this so?
Personal language

Impersonal subject

 

Adapted in part from: Woodward-Kron and Thomson, 2000



© Copyright 2000
Comments and questions should
be directed to Unilearning@uow.edu.au

 

How to avoid using personal language

1. Sometimes it is just a matter of eliminating the personal language1.

I think Ned Kelly relied on his Irish heritage to gain local sympathy.
Ned Kelly relied on his Irish heritage to gain local sympathy.

We use the passive voice to make our writing sound objective.
The passive voice makes writing sound objective.

 

2. DO NOT refer to what you think; refer instead to what the evidence suggests.

Beware: "In some disciplines it is acceptable (even preferable) to use personal language. Check these language conventions with your departments."

 

AVOID using personal judgement words2USE words referring to the evidence
I thinkFrom examining the findings,
I feelIn light of the evidence,
I believeFrom previous research,
I am convinced thatConsidering the results,
I dislikedAccording to the figures,
I liked As shown in the diagram,
I agreeIt is evident from the data that
I disagreeThe literature suggests
I am sure thatGiven this information,
It is my belief thatSome theorists argue that

 

The following example from a report expresses many opinions yet personal language is not used to do this. It instead refers to the literature and evidence in the form of survey results as well as using third person constructions - 'it' phrases, (see point 3 below) and so avoids having to use a personal judgement phrase such as "I think" in order to express an opinion.

Example

It is widely accepted in academia that "You must be 'seen' to be heard" (Moles & Clarke, 1995, p85); this sentiment was supported by 84% of the surveyed academics who felt that it was important to publish on the Internet. Moreover, the evidence in the literature suggests academic publishing on the Internet is flourishing. For example, the Directory of Electronic Journals Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists (5th ed.) lists 675 electronic journals and newsletters, along with 2500 scholarly discussion groups (King, 1995, pl-760).

According to the surveyed academics, 42% would rather publish in a print journal and 56% would prefer to read articles in print journals. From these survey results, it could be argued...

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise.

 

3. Use the 3rd person or 'It' constructions2.

It could be arguedthatIt has been suggestedthat
It can be seen thatIt appears that
It was found thatIt is generally agreed that
It could be concluded thatIt seems that
It tends to beIt is widely accepted that
It is doubtful thatIt is evident from the data that

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise.

 

4. Use the passive voice3.

The passive voice should be used in academic writing when the 'doer' of the action in a sentence is unknown or irrelevant to the discussion. Passive sentence construction emphasises the events and processes the sentence is describing.

 

Personal pronouns are avoided when using the passive voice; focus moves off 'doer' and onto the action.Active
Wecut a segment of the apple and placed it in agar solution.

Passive
A segment of the apple was cut and placed in agar solution.

________________

Active
Our loggers transport the offcuts to the waste station.

Passive
The offcuts are transported to the waste station.
The passive verb includes the past participle of the verb 'to be'.

Would you like to review more detailed information on the use and construction of the passive voice?

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise based on point 4.


Do you know how to use Impersonal Language?


If so, go to the Summary Exercise that covers all the aspects of using Impersonal Language.

 

Footnotes

1 Adapted from: Aveline Perez (The Learning Skills Unit, University of Melbourne) Academic Language.

2 Jordon, R. R. (1992) Academic Writing Course. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons.

3 Text adapted in part from: Learning Development, University of Wollongong Academic English: Self Directed learning Resource.



© Copyright 2000
Comments and questions should
be directed to Unilearning@uow.edu.au

 

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