Style and tone are important elements of APA papers. This affects how readers understand information. One element that can determine how information is received by the reader is point of view. It is a common misconception that you cannot use the first person in APA style. It is not that you cannot use the first person; rather, it is how you use it. I or we is perfectly acceptable in APA style.
What types of uncertainty result when an author goes to great lengths to avoid using I or we? On pages 69–70, the Manual gives three possibilities:
- Authors sometimes use the third person simply because it sounds more objective. Authors will often use the authors as a stand-in for I or we, but using this phrase can lead to confusion. Consider this sentence:As Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007) noted, there is no correlation between television viewing time and calorie intake. The authors replicated this finding with three experiments.
Does “the authors” refer to both Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007)? Or does it refer to the authors of the current paper? You would likely guess it’s the latter, but the meaning would be more clear with we:As Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007) noted, there is no correlation between television viewing time and calorie intake. We replicated this finding with three experiments.
- Attempts to avoid first person can also lead to anthropomorphism. As the Manual notes (p. 69), an experiment cannot “attempt to demonstrate,” but I or we can.
- Finally, the use of the editorial we can sometimes be confusing. For example, “we categorize anxiety disorders …” may leave the reader wondering whether we refers to the authors of the current paper, to the research community, or to some other group. But this doesn’t mean we must be completely avoided. As the Manual states (p. 70), “we is an appropriate and useful referent.” You could simply rewrite this sentence, “As psychologists, we categorize anxiety disorders …”
Some may use the first person naturally. It is not always right or wrong to use the first person. The most significant thing to consider, using APA style or another style is the transparency and accuracy of each sentence in your manuscript. To quote the Manual one more time, “Make certain that every word means exactly what you intend it to mean” (p. 68).
Note: If you are writing a paper, dissertation or thesis, check your institutions guidelines for the use of first person. Guidelines vary from one institution to another and the acceptance of first person is often a hot topic. Dissertation committees often advise students to follow APA style with a list of school-specific exceptions and the acceptability of first person may be one of these. The same with manuscript for publication, always check with the publisher’s guidelines.