Use of the word "I"
in scientific papers

By professor Jacob Palme,
Department of Computer and Systems Sciences
KTH Technical University



Many academicians discourage the use of first person personal pronouns like "I", "me" and "mine", "myself" and "my"" in scientific papers.


Why is use of the word "I" discouraged

  1. Scientific papers are meant to only include scientific facts. The word "I" often is used to indicate that something is your personal views, rather than what can be proven scientifically.
  2. In scientific papers, the facts are important, not the people. By using the word "I", you put yourself, instead of your results, in focus.

Can I use "we" instead of "I"

  1. In a paper with more than one author, the word "we" will of course replace "I", and it is discouraged for the same reason as "I" in papers with a single author.
  2. Some authors use the "we" in the meaning "I and the reader". Example:

    If we analyze these results, we will conclude that ...

    This is more acceptable, but my recommendation is to use also this only sparingly.

Personal opinions


Suppose you want to write "I believe there is a large potential for...". This is your personal view. If you still want to include it, you can write as follows:

  1. One hypothesis is that there is large potential for ...
  2. This paper assumes that there is a large potential for ...
  3. A common view is that there is a large potential for ...
  4. Some people believe that there is a large potential for ...

Note that you should still try to avoid personal views, but if you still want or need to include them, one of the alternatives above could be used.

Note also that if you say that something is "one hypothesis", then it is best if you try to prove or disprove this hypothesis.


Actions taken during the research


Another use of "I" is to describe which actions you took during the research. This use of the word "I" is more acceptable, but it is still better to try to find alternative phrasing. Examples:

Examples using "I": Alternative wordings:
I sent the questionnaire to 100 respondents. The questionnaire was sent to 100 recipients.
I tested this by estimating the elapsed time. The elapsed time was measured to estimate this.
I found that the first procedure did not work. The first procedure did not work, because ...
By using such wordings, you are putting the research and its results, not yourself, in focus.

Isn't this rather hypocritical


Some people say that avoiding the word I is rather hypocritical, you are hiding your opinions, and give an impression of scientific accurateness, which may not be true.

If you are describing your own actions in participatory research, use of the word I may be more acceptable.




Some people even claim that the principle of avoiding the word "I" is sexist. The argument is that the wish to give an impression of objectivity is part of the male gender role, while feelings and subjectivism are more part of the female gender role.

This may sometimes be true. However, there are many successful female researchers, who have accepted the idea of searching for an objective truth. To say that searching for truth is not part of the female gender role is derogative of women. Forcing people into stereotyped sexist roles, is that not even more sexist?

Note also that feelings are not forbidden in research, provided you treat them in a scientific way.