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First Person in APA Style: Can we use it? Yes I can!

Most people think that using the first person is anathema in academic writing and substitute awkward anthropomorphisms ("the study seeks to show..."), passively constructed sentences ("the study was designed to..."), or, worst of all, deceptive sleights of word reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz ("The researcher designed the study to...").
The APA 6th edition style guide's editors are practical people who eschew anthropomorphisms, unnecessarily passive wording, and writers who pretend they aren't there. Rather than commit any of these sins of style, just come out with it and say, "I designed the study to accomplish..." or "I selected a sample consisting of..." What you don't want to do is make the study all about you. Don't say, "Next I discovered that the t test was the best approach, and when I saw the results, I decided to ..." This isn't about you. It's about the research—the research that you did.
So be brave, take a deep breath, and tell it like it is.

all things apa

The First Person: Can we use it? Yes I can!
This one stylistic issue has ruined so much scholarly research writing that it makes me weep. But let's be clear: the APA STYLE MANUAL DOES NOT PROHIBIT THE USE OF THE FIRST PERSON. Rather, it provides guidelines for how to use it.
Yes, the first person voice can become intrusive. And yes, it can make you sound egotistical. But let's face it: in the process of researching you actually did something. The research didn't just happen: you did it. So sometimes you have to own up to your work and call it what it is.
Two stylistic mistakes do more damage to your writing than using the first person:

  • Using the passive voice, and
  • Anthropomorphizing.

  • Using the passive voice is vapid, boring, and vague. It will put your audience to sleep faster than a lullaby. In research writing you can usually avoid using the passive voice by talking about what other researchers have done. Only when talking about your own research must you be brave and say "I studied," or "I interviewed."
    Anthropomorphizing is inaccurate. A study cannot "investigate": it is words on a paper or on a computer screen, presumably that you wrote. Researchers investigate. So don't say, "The current study investigated." Say "I investigated...." or "Other Really Smart Person (2010) investigated...."
    However, do limit your use of the first person. Don't introduce yourself at every turn, saying things like, "I read a study by Brilliant Woman, and in it she said that..." In that situation, we the readers don't particularly care about you. We care about what Brilliant Woman said. Stay out of it and put her center stage.
    And one more thing: if you are a renowned, often-quoted scholar in your own right, then by all means tell us what you think and use the first person all you like. You've earned it.


    Chapter, Section, or Part (call them what you will: a dissertation has five of these)APA HAS NO CHAPTER HEADINGS, SO
    Chapter (alternative) Some Committee Prefer a Simpler Style for Chapters:
    Walden is One Example of a University that Prefers Centered Normal Text with Capitalization For Chapter Headings
    Level 1 Centered, Boldfaced, with Uppercase and Lowercase Words
    Level 2 Left-justified, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Words

    Text begins in a new paragraph below.
    Level 3 Tabbed, boldfaced, sentence-case heading with period. Follow this directly with text without starting a new paragraph.
    Level 4 Tabbed, boldfaced, italicized, sentence-case heading with period. Follow this directly with text without starting a new paragraph.
    Level 5 Tabbed, italicized, sentence-case heading with period. Follow this directly with text without starting a new paragraph.

    Remember two things:

    1. Table captions are above the tables. They are titles and thus require capitalization. Use the first row of the table for the table title so that you can link the caption with the table without an intervening line. See the examples below. The first row of the table has been merged horizontally so that the title fits without any wrapping.
    2. Figure captions are below the figures. They are statements about the figure and thus require sentence case.

    Above and to the left is a table with its caption, shown with visible grid lines (draft form) and without them (final form):

    Other Interesting and Useful Links
    Sample Paper from American Psychological Association
    Elements of a Title Page
    Walden University Writing Center: Summary of Important APA Criteria

Basic Rules of Writing a la George

George Orwell gets the credit for these.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Here are some notes that I have accumulated over the years:
  1. You can use an old, tired metaphor or simile if you give it a twist.
  2. Avoid obfuscation.
  3. Rather than, "The man was bitten by the dog," say, "The dog bit the man."
  4. Vive la Ingles!
  5. It does not follow that bending the rules is sophisticated.