23 February 2014
We’ve all been cautioned against it—this great sin against good writing. “I ..., I ..., I ... .” So what’s the alternative? The one we most commonly see is another sin in the writer’s Bible: the passive voice: “No evidence could be found.” “It was previously thought that ... .” “In an earlier article, it was proposed that ... .” Every time we read such statements, a swarm of question distract us:
- Who could not find the needed evidence—you or someone who attempted it before you?
- Who thought that—you in an earlier research effort or someone else who tackled the subject before you?
- Who proposed that?
Clarity is far more important to researchers than an abritrary rule against using references to one’s self. Credit where due is a cornerstone of scholarship. So is a willingness to accept responbility for past errors.
The real sin that “I-disease” commits is the sin of self-centeredness. Once we choose to use the “I” in our reporting, we have to guard against turning the spotlight on ourselves. When writing about historical matters, there is rarely a need to inject ourselves into that place and time.