As a student, you’ve probably been told to avoid using first person in essays many times throughout the years. But an argumentative essay requires you to research a topic, choose a standpoint, and then support your point of view.
So, if the whole point is to argue your position on an issue, can you use first person in an argumentative essay?
In this article, we’ll explore some rules surrounding using personal pronouns in argumentative essays and give tips on crafting one that will help you get top marks. Let’s get started!
What Is an Argumentative Essay?
Since it’s often confused with a persuasive essay, let’s begin by clarifying what we mean by an argumentative essay.
In an argumentative essay, you take a particular stance on a subject and support it with hard evidence. You’re not merely trying to persuade the reader that yours is the correct stance – you’re trying to prove to them that your main point is logically the best option.
This means you must do thorough research to support your main claim and provide this evidence throughout your paper. There’s no place for emotional or philosophical reasoning in an argumentative essay.
This is in direct contrast to a persuasive essay, where you have a little more flexibility. You don’t necessarily need hard facts and data to back up your viewpoints – you just want to try and convince your audience to agree with you. This means you can use cultural, moral, or opinion-based reasoning and any evidence you may have come across in your research.
So, now that we’ve clarified that an argumentative essay requires you to exclusively support your stance with hard facts and data, the question remains: can you use the first person pronoun in your academic writing?
Can You Use First Person in an Argumentative Essay?
In most cases, the answer is no; you shouldn’t use the first person in an argumentative essay. Unless you receive specific instructions from your instructor to do so, your academic paper will be stronger without these pronouns.
As mentioned above, an argumentative essay’s main point is convincing readers that your stance is the best option. And the best way to prove this is by providing hard facts and evidence that support your position, not your personal feelings and beliefs.
This means backing up your arguments with reputable sources. For example, academic research studies, books, papers, and even news articles are all acceptable sources to cite in an argumentative essay.
Since it is supposed to be based on facts, using first-person pronouns throughout your writing can almost make your arguments seem biased, which is exactly what you don’t want in this type of academic essay. This is why these personal pronouns are better left to persuasive essays, where you have more flexibility in presenting and supporting your arguments.
Fortunately, avoiding using the first person in an essay can be pretty straightforward. For example, instead of saying, “I believe that schools should allow students to choose between in-class and remote learning because…” you could just say, “Schools should allow students to choose between in-class and remote learning because…” and then follow it up with your evidence.
The second example removes the first-person pronoun and sounds stronger without it.
It’s important to note that avoiding using the first person in argumentative essays is more of a general rule. There are, in fact, some instances where it can be perfectly appropriate.
When Can You Use First Person in an Argumentative Essay?
The opportunity may not present itself too often, but there are some situations where you can use first-person pronouns in an argumentative essay.
You can use it when:
- Providing a quote from dialogue or another source. For example, “In his book on the topic, Smith wrote, ‘I found this to be the best solution to the problem.’” Of course, you’re not using the first-person pronoun for yourself, but you can still use it!
- Your instructor has asked you to provide your own personal experience, reflection, and opinion on the topic.
It may also be appropriate when you’re using the results of your own academic research to help support your argument. However, this typically doesn’t come up too often in student essays.
Now, the situation may arise where you want to share something that only makes sense from the first-person perspective. If that’s the case, then the best thing you can do is ask your instructor. Some instructors may be more flexible and lenient about this than others, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask!
Can I Use the Second Person in an Argumentative Essay?
You shouldn’t use the second person in an argumentative essay, either. The only time it may be appropriate is when you are using it in a quote.
The problem with second-person pronouns (you/your) is that they tend to demonstrate a familiarity with the audience. You don’t need to reference your readers in an argumentative paper – you’re simply there to present your opinion and offer supporting evidence.
As with the first person, it’s simple enough to avoid using second-person pronouns. For example, “If you eat breakfast in the morning, you’ll have more energy throughout the day” can turn into something like, “Eating breakfast in the morning increases energy levels throughout the day.”
And again, doesn’t the second example sound like a stronger statement?
What Pronoun Should I Use in an Argumentative Essay?
In an argumentative essay, you should only use third-person pronouns. This includes she/her/herself, he/him/himself, it/its/itself, and they/them/theirs/themselves.
The third-person perspective is always a safe bet in an academic essay, making your writing sound less personal and subjective and more reputable and objective.
Besides, third-person pronouns are just what you need to refer to your sources throughout your academic paper. For example:
- In his study on college students, Smith finds…
- Their results show…
- Her research demonstrates that…
By stating other people’s findings and perspectives, you can present hard evidence to your audience from a more objective point of view – no matter how passionately you believe in your stance.
Tips on Writing a Great Argumentative Essay
So, now that you know to stick with third-person pronouns in an argumentative essay, here are a few extra tips to help make your next one stand out:
- Always proofread your essays. It can be tempting to just go with your first draft (there’s nothing like the feeling of finishing a huge assignment!), but you may miss some really small mistakes that will ultimately affect your grade – including the accidental use of first or second-person pronouns. So, take some time to look it over, and maybe even get a friend or family member to read it over, too. A second set of eyes can be helpful!
- Make sure your audience can recognize your counterarguments. You don’t want them to be confused as to which way you stand on the subject, especially since you aren’t using first-person pronouns. Try using phrases like “Critics believe…” or “According to some…” to ensure your readers know these opposing viewpoints.
The Bottom Line
While there are a few instances where first and second-person pronouns are appropriate in argumentative essays, they are rare.
Therefore, it’s best to stick with third-person pronouns throughout your paper, as they can make your writing sound more objective and lend themselves well to your supporting evidence. But if you’re ever unsure, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor. They’ll be able to guide you in the right direction and help set you up for success.
Good luck with your next argumentative essay!