Second-Person Pronouns

You

I would like to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with addressing the reader as you in a formal paper. I would like to say that, used judiciously, you can be as legitimate a word as any other. But I can't. For most readers, you carries a tremendous sense of informality, and in a sentence that gives advice or demands action, it may seem outright aggressive.

You should recycle more orange peels to save the environment.

This sentence appears to single out the reader. It feel overly personal, almost like an attack. This is why I advise students to avoid you in academic writing, which is meant to be impartial.

The most common substitute for you in general statements is the third-person pronoun one. Unfortunately, constant references to one can become cripplingly awkward, especially if many appear in a row.

One should recycle one's orange peels to save the environment for one's children.

In a case like this, it would be best to rewrite the sentence. We is certainly a better choice, even if it is less formal. If you must make a choice between informality and awkward writing, be informal, but be understood.

I have defied my own advice by using you in this guide. This is because I hope to create a conversational tone often lacking in typical writing guides. But this attempt has backfired if you feel that I am always telling you what to do.

Personal Pronouns

Go back to Table of Contents