Writers: We Are Not Amused

Queen Victoria of Briton

Queen Victoria of Briton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Warning: I venture almost exclusively into the realm of personal taste with this post.

Upon occasion, my authors do something that drives me crazy.  I’m sorry, guys.  I still respect you.  You’re still smart.  Your ideas are still good.  I promise.  But I do need a moment to complain about the times when you make yourself sound both stuffy and inaccurate.  How?  With the simple expedient of using “we” instead of “I” in academic papers.

Here’s a reality check: you are not the pope, so you cannot speak for the church.  You are not a newspaper editor, so you cannot speak for your newspaper.  And everyone who reads your paper will see that you are the only author, so you cannot speak for your coauthors.  The jig is up!  You are alone!  Stop being coy.  Take pride in your argument.  Take responsibility for it too.  Use “I”!

Let’s move on from a reality check to some tough love.  There is an actual term to describe your usage.  It is “the majestic we.”*  Do you really want to use a device that makes you sound like when you’re writing you pretend that you’re Queen Victoria?  If you actually do that, then there may be deeper problems at play here than your prose stylings.  Seek help, or quit graduate school.  If not, make friends with the “Find and Replace” function in Word and embrace the first person singular.

*There’s also a forensic (i.e., debating) term for this, since there’s a forensic term for virtually every sort of utterance you can make: nosism, from the Latin “nos.”  But that’s a topic for a different day.

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