How can I write more objectively?
In your writing at university you are often expected to give your view. For example:
- interpreting findings
- evaluating a theory
- developing an argument
- critiquing the work of others.
However, the style of academic writing is usually still quite objective and impersonal, which means that it avoids mentioning personal feelings. In order to express your point of view and still write in an objective style, you can use some of the following language strategies:
- Move information around in the sentence to emphasise things and ideas, instead of people and feelings. For example, instead of writing "I believe the model is valid, based on these findings", write "These findings indicate that the model is valid" or "The following section will show how the model is validated by the findings".
- Avoid evaluative words which are based on non-technical judgements and feelings, such as "badly", "disappointment", "amazing", etc. Instead use technical evaluations which related to academic or discipline-specific criteria and values - such as "valid", "inaccurate", "reliable", "clearly demonstrates", "rigour", "out-dated", etc.
- Avoid intense or emotional evaluative language. Instead, use more moderate and graded evaluative language. For example, instead of writing "Parents who smoke are obviously abusing their children", write "Second hand smoke has some harmful effects on children’s health."
- Use modality to show caution about your views, or to allow room for others to disagree. For example, instead of writing "I think second-hand smoke causes cancer", write "Second-hand smoke may cause cancer", or "There is evidence to support the possibility that second-hand smoke increases the risk of cancer."
- Find authoritative sources (i.e. authors or researchers in books or articles) who support your point of view, and refer to them in your writing. For example, instead of writing "Language is, in my view, clearly something social", write "As Halliday (1973) shows, language is intrinsically social."
Different disciplines often have quite different expectations about how objective or subjective your writing can be. In the discipline of Education, for example, it is often acceptable to refer to your experiences directly through pronouns (e.g. I, me, my). On the other hand, in many science disciplines, this would usually not be acceptable. It is wise to find out about the writing style expected in your discipline(s) by browsing recent articles in some authoritative journals in the field. (Ask your lecturer or tutor which journals, or check the reading list.)
For more on this topic, see the links on the right...
Being objective suggests that you are concerned about facts and are not influenced as much by personal feelings or biases.
Part of being objective is being fair in your work. Try to show both sides of an argument if you can and avoid making value judgements through your use of words such as “wonderful” or “sarcastically”. Being objective also makes your work more professional and believable.
Techniques to make your writing more objective
- Be explicit in expressing your ideas.
For example, “ten” instead of “several”; “70%” instead of “most of the population”; “three years ago” or “in 2006” instead of “some time ago”.
- Avoid intensifiers which can tend to exaggerate your writing.
For example, “awfully”, “very”, “really”.
- Avoid language that implicitly excludes any group of people.
- Avoid the personal pronoun “I” but write more impersonally.
For example, “It could be argued that…” instead of “I think…”. Alternatively use citations to express your views, e.g. “Satherley (2007) believes that…”
Note: Despite the fact that you are not encouraged to use the personal pronoun “I” in academic writing, your viewpoints and opinions will still come through.
Although they may not be specifically attributed to you, the fact that the comments you choose to make are a part of your assignment tells the reader that you believe what you are writing.
Stating “I think…” or “In my opinion…” weakens the text and the strength of your argument. In addition, adding such personal comments almost seems to emphasise that the writing is just your opinions or interpretations, rather than positions that are supported by logic and the evidence.
However, some lecturers and some styles of academic writing (e.g. reflective writing) allow or encourage the use of the personal pronoun. See 1st person vs. 3rd person for details.
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Last updated on 25 October, 2012