Why can't I use the second person in academic writing? How can I replace the word "you" and "your" in essay writing so it will not be in second person?

1 Answer
Apr 30, 2016


It sounds too informal and teachers and editors hate it.


Many publications have their own style manuals and they all differ from one another. Writing in the second person is fine for magazines like Maxim and FHM , but scholarly journals affect a less chummy tone. Not only is addressing the reader as "you" discouraged, they will look down on you if you refer to yourself in any way. This is because their styles are rooted in the tradition of research literature, where the writer's personal life experiences are deemed less compelling than what is seen in observed phenomena.

This isn't absolute. Most academic papers are written in one of two styles: MLA (Modern Language Association) for the humanities and APA (American Psychiatric Association) for the sciences. MLA gives you some wiggle room for first- and second-person references, but prefers that you not use them too much. APA is serious scientific stuffiness right down the line and wants you to be, too.

The particular class or discipline will generally recommend which of these styles to use, or perhaps they will have their own in-house style guide. For more specific information on appropriate academic styles, refer to The Bedford Handbook by Diana Hacker. This book is particularly helpful for writing bibliographies and in-text citations, as the different styles have very different requirements for these.

Writers have gotten creative about weeding out the "you" and "your" references. For instance, instead of saying "If you buy your car on a Friday afternoon...", try saying "When a person buys a car on a Friday..." or "When one purchases a car at week's end..."