Can I use “I” in my essay?

Jan 8, 2013 by

The good news is that yes, you may use “I” in the ACT Essay!  Normally, students are accustomed to crotchety English teachers blotting out those “I”s with their red pens.  “You can’t use first person pronouns in essays!” they reprimand.

But the hidden truth is this: it is actually okay to use “I,” “me,” “mine,” and other first person pronouns.  And there are multiple reasons why it’s okay – even encouraged – to use them:

  • First of all, the ACT prompt itself says “In your opinion.”  Right there, that is asking you to give your opinion.  It’s kind of hard not to use “I” in that case.
  • Also, there are several different writing techniques that require the use of “I” and are perfectly acceptable in most kinds of essays.
  • Finally, even though using “I” isn’t necessarily the best thing to do all the time, ACT essay readers don’t care about your using or not using it as much as other, more important writing skills.

Two ways you can use “I” in an essay:

Introductions: One fantastic way to start off an essay is to include a personal story as your attention getter in your introduction.  Stories are great ways of capturing attention and introducing your topic!  Of course, it’s impossible to tell a story about your life without saying “I” in that story.

Body Paragraph Examples: Instead of just explaining your idea with vague generalizations, try to use specific, concrete examples to show your reader what you’re talking about.  And one great way to give an illustration is to talk about your own experience.  Again, it’s pretty difficult to talk about yourself without using “I,” isn’t it?

 (*Notice how both of these recommendations involve the use of telling personal stories.  This is an example of where it’s appropriate to use “I.”  Don’t go overboard and start using it everywhere.  Keep it to these types of applications.*)

 Are there times when I shouldn’t use “I” in essay writing?

Yes, there are times when you shouldn’t use “I” in an essay.  Actually, you should try avoiding using “I” at any time when you’re not giving a personal story.  Here are some common areas where that pesky “I” creeps into our writing, and gives English teachers all the more reason to just tell us to avoid using it altogether:

Resist going for the “I think…” or “In my opinion…” phrase in your thesis.  In fact, resist using the “I think…” type of phrases anywhere!  This should not appear at all in your paper.  You’re 16 or 17 years old.  No one cares what you think.

So overall, it’s okay to use “I” in essay writing, but only in appropriate situations.  Remember that this is not a critical concern of the ACT essay readers: they care about how well you use “I,” but it’s not going to make a bad paper good, or a good paper bad just based on that.

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