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The “no first-person” myth

Cite this
Greenbaum, H. (2021, December 1). The “no first-person” myth. APA Style.

The “no first-person” myth

In this series, we look at common APA Style misconceptions and debunk these myths one by one.

Many writers believe the “no first-person” myth, which is that writers cannot use first-person pronouns such as “I” or “we” in an APA Style paper. This myth implies that writers must instead refer to themselves in the third person (e.g., as “the author” or “the authors”). However, APA Style has no such rule against using first-person pronouns and actually encourages their use to avoid ambiguity in attribution!

When expressing your own views or the views of yourself and fellow authors, use the pronouns “I” or “we” and the like. Similarly, when writing your paper, use first-person pronouns when describing work you did by yourself or work you and your fellow authors did together when conducting your research. For example, use “we interviewed participants” rather than “the authors interviewed participants.” When writing an APA Style paper by yourself, use the first-person pronoun “I” to refer to yourself. And use the pronoun “we” when writing an APA Style paper with others. Here are some phrases you might use in your paper:

“I think…”
“I believe…”
“I interviewed the participants…”
“I analyzed the data…”
“My analysis of the data revealed…”
“We concluded…”
“Our results showed…”

This guidance can be found in Section 4.16 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition and in Section 2.16 of the Concise Guide to APA Style, Seventh Edition. It represents a continuation of a long-standing APA Style guideline that began with the second edition of the manual, in 1974.

Keep in mind that you should avoid using the editorial “we” to refer to people in general so that it is clear to readers to whom you are referring. Instead, use more specific nouns such as “people” or “researchers.”

As always, defer to your instructors’ guidelines when writing student papers. For example, your instructor may ask students to avoid using first-person language. If so, follow that guideline for work in your class.

Now that we’ve debunked another myth, go forth APA Style writers, using the first-person when appropriate!

What myth should we debunk next? Leave a comment below.