What is authority in writing?

Authority v.s Invisibility

The struggle of authorial identity for academic writers…

Questioning Ideas:

Do you use personal pronouns in your academic writing? If so, when and why?

Do you think using personal pronouns in academic writing strengthens the writers authority? If so, in what genres of literature?

In terms of academic writing, where is the line between being persuasive and influential to the reader and implementing too much of your own opinion or identity?


First, look up an academic article and scan the work for personal pronouns and opinionated statements. Then, find an old work (research paper, essay, SLR, etc), and go through your main body paragraphs and look for the same thing (personal pronouns or opinionated statements). Try to note in what types of literature you implement more opinion, and when it remains more neutral.

Reading like a reader:

What devices does the author use?


Writer Pronouns: Personal pronouns that refer to the author – I, we, my, etc. – known to be a topic of debate in academic writing. In some scientific disciplines, the first person has traditionally been avoided to maintain an objective, impersonal tone and keep the focus on the material rather than the author. Ken Hyland argues against this precedent saying that including reader pronouns is, “a powerful rhetorical strategy for emphasising a contribution.”


Hyland talks about students being hesitant to use these pronouns in their academic writing. Do you as a student feel the same way? Why or why not?


Personal Aides: The author includes his own personal thoughts which adds a perspective and can help readers understand the reading through emphasis or explanation. For example in Hyland’s writing, “It is this third element of identity which I am concerned with in this paper.”

Using “I, we, my” adds identity to writing, but so do personal aides. Does using both together create too much authority to academic writing?


Appeals to Logic (Logos): The author includes logos, specifically inductive reasoning, in his writing. A good example from the text is when he states, “The study shows significant underuse of authorial reference by students and clear preferences for avoiding these forms in contexts which involved making arguments or claims. I conclude that the individualistic identity implied in the use of I may be problematic for many L2 writers.” Hyland provides specific explanation and comes to a broader conclusion using reasoning.


Using logic in writing versus including personal opinion and identity seem to be opposite writing strategies. How would you compare the possible benefits of these strategies supporting each other versus the possible consequences of them conflicting with each other?


Perspective: Hyland includes different opinions of actual students in his writing to add others’ perspectives and create a more complete understanding of the stigmas behind using I, we, my, etc., in academic writing.

Do you believe that it’s important to add the perspectives of others in academic writing if you as an author are including your own opinions?



The author begins by stating the central idea of his paper, then organizing his ideas around it. The claim is that students and scholars in various academic contexts construct rhetorical identities using different discursive devices. These devices are influenced by their cultures. Writers draw on their communities and cultures to construct their identities. They often find, when placed in academic contexts, that the conventions with which they are familiar are discouraged. The author then states his intent to study the use of first-person pronouns in academic writing. Throughout the paper, he investigates the frequency with which these pronouns are used, as well as the ways in which they are used. He concludes that students shy away from using first person pronouns in situations where they are required to state a claim, especially when that claim might meet with criticism or resistance. It is hard for them to project authority, much harder than it is for professional writers.


He uses quotes from student papers, from students, and from teachers to illustrate that some students may believe that the use of the first person is inappropriate in academic writing. He also points out the different contexts in which students were more likely to use first person pronouns, finding that students were reluctant to use it when they were required to project authority. 


He never addresses the audience directly and keeps his language very objective, never evaluating the morality or efficacy of his findings. Ironically, he does not use the word “I” outside of the abstract. 

Consider the effect of this mode of address.

Reading like a writer:

In his writing, Hyland discusses the topic of using “I” in academic writing. Ironically, he uses “I” in his own writing frequently within his own academic writing. What effect do you think this creates for readers?


The rhetorical strategies which Hyland uses in his academic piece compliment the main ideas behind his writing. How could the use of certain strategies possibly conflict with the intent of a piece of writing?


Hyland includes the perspective of different students who offered their opinions on the use “I” in their work and each answer was similar. Is it possible that other students had different opinions and purposely weren’t included? Why?


Ken Hyland is an Associate Professor at The City University of Hong Kong. Do you think that geographical location and differences in writing among different cultures could have an impact on student perspectives along with his own perspective?

Connecting ideas:

When writing your SLR pieces, did you feel as though you couldn’t use “I” because it would make your writing too personal?

After reading Hyland’s writing and having some discussion, would you feel more comfortable using “I” in your own academic writing now?

Why does the theme of writing matter and differ so much between different forms of text? (Blog Post vs. SLR vs. Emails vs. Etc.) Do you believe that fitting writing to the type of text is too important, not important enough, or perfectly important in writing today? Is its importance changing over time?

Getting beyond the text:

In the reading, Hyland organized the use of self-mention in the student papers into five categories based on function:

  • ·       Stating a goal/purpose: “…I am going to describe the findings from my interviews with the students based on their experience of the lesson in which I used task-based grammar teaching approach” (1100).
  • ·       Explaining a procedure:  “I have interviewed 10 teachers…” (1101).
  • ·       Stating results/claims: “Likewise, I have offered evidence that some critical thinking practices may marginalize subcutural groups, such as women, within U.S. society itself” (1104).
  • ·       Expressing self-benefits: “After finishing the project, I found that Information System (IS) techniques can be applied to the real world. This helps me to be an IS professional in the future career.” (1100).
  • ·       Elaborating an argument: “I am purposely associating these two examples” (1103).
  1. Which of these first person pronoun strategies did you use in your SLR? What about in your blog?
  2. How does this compare to your writing in other classes, such as social science or humanities courses?
  3. Hyland found the two most commonly used functions of self-mention in the student papers to be stating a goal/purpose and explaining a procedure. After reflecting on your use of first person pronouns does this surprise you?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *