Can I use the word "I" in a research article? This and other perplexing questions about the range of styles you can employ in your research writing are answered in this episode of the Teaching Writing podcast. As writers of research documents, we need to answer that question along with many other specific questions in order to write successfully (read "get published'). In this post, though, I'll also try to point us towards some of the bigger questions and issues that help us understand the answers to the specific ones. (For the more attentive among you, you'll notice I've already used I, you, and we!).
Let's begin with an answer to that first question: I think the short answer is yes--you can use the first-person pronoun. Generally. though, in research articles I've co-authored over the last few years, we'll use "we." However, we don't use it a lot--mainly in the introduction where we make the main claim or argument of the article:
To answer these questions, we used triangulation (Candlin & Hyland, 1999), which allows both collecting data from multiple sources and using multiple approaches to analyze the data (Hastings, 2012). Triangulation “provide[d] multiple lines of sight and multiple contexts” (Hastings, 2012) to examine and enrich our understanding of the move-visual interactions in research articles in discrete mathematics. Our results show notable associations between the move structure and the visuals used in the articles in ways that contribute to the central rhetorical purpose of the articles, namely establishing facts (i.e., new knowledge). Here we first summarize some existing research on visuals in academic genres. Next, we briefly describe the study design. We then present results including the roles that visuals play in RAs in discrete mathematics as well as examples of move-visual associations in their rhetorical structure. Lastly, we discuss the implications of our findings, including the pedagogical implications for academic writing classes in mathematics and related disciplines.
My apologies for the length of the quotation, but I think it helps to make the point of how extensively you can use "we." Whatever you do, you need to be consistent in your usage. I'll note that "we" shows up frequently in the methods section of this article as well as in the discussion part of the results section, and again in the conclusion (full citation at the end of this post).
Ultimately, the journal and the editor you send your manuscript to controls the decisions you make about style. English for Specific Purposes (the article I'm quoting from) has a 13-page booklet listing their style requirements. One of your first tasks when preparing a manuscript is to find those requirements and ensure that you've met them. Everything from how you report your data to how you visualize it might be specified.
OK, so we can use "we." But how personal can we be in research writing? In the slides that I used in my in-person workshop you'll see some quotes from a recent article by Randy Harris. Here's a quote from the first section of that article:
I have a neighbor, just into her seventies. She walks her dogs past my yard daily, and when she finds me puttering about, she infallibly asks, with a mischievous grin, "Are you working hard, or hardly working?" Same question. Every time. My neighbor is resisting the incursions of Alzheimer's Disease, resisting the erosion of her memory and her Self, and her armament includes rhetorical figures.
After the end of this prologue (titled "0. Two Tales of Resistence"), section "1.0 Introduction" begins this way:
Rhetorical figures are neurocognitively motivated linguistic assemblages which achieve degrees of salience, memorability, and aesthetic pleasure by the way they recruit our biases for particular patterns and relationships. Their neurocognitive resonances enable figures to make specific colligations and constructions more resilient to the fragility of memory, individual and cultural; to the vagaries of attention, individual and cultural; to the presence of noise, internal and external; and to any combinations of the above.
I think most academic readers will recognize this text as academic for all kinds of reasons. But Professor Harris has already made himself present in the text, and he continues to do so through the use of "I" in footnotes and occasionally throughout the manuscript.
I wondered how much of Harris' use of informal language is a product of gender (it appears not to be a major factor), status in the field (he shows tendencies to vary linguistic register in an article in the early 1990s when he was just establishing himself), and field of study (rhetoric). The formality of the field and values of the field of study can influence the acceptance or rejection of informality, with discrete mathematics standing out as one example of a field that values precision ahead of personality.
Moghaddasi, S., Graves, H. A. B., Graves, R., & Gutierrez, X. (2019). “See Figure 1”: Visual moves in discrete mathematics research articles. English for Specific Purposes, 56, 50–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2019.08.001
Harris, Randy Allen. "Dementia, Rhetorical Schemes, and Cognitive Resilience." Poroi 15, Iss. 1 (2020): Article 12. https://doi.org/10.13008/2151-2957.1301