A similar question exists here however I don't feel that answers my specific question. Other questions on this topic seem to explain why "we" is primarily used in academic writing, which I understand.

However, one part of my thesis is reviewing work I studied during the first half of my master's year, not the research I did. In this context I feel I should use "I did this..." or "I read..." etc. Not we, like I use in the research part.

So should I be using "I" when reviewing the subjects/topics I studied? As opposed to introducing the research I did in which case I use "We"

  • 1
    Use of the passive voice gets a bad rap these days, but in my opinion it's far better than resorting to sentences that begin with "I read...". Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 22:38
  • In my field (EE), we is pretty acceptable, but I is so personal and in some sense not so professional; however, there is an exception corresponding to very famous scientists, those who often write review papers individually in which I might be used.
    – user41207
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:00
  • @astronat and Roboticist how would you recommend I use "we" in this context? It doesn't make sense to say "We read.." etc. So I'm unsure how to introduce the chapter.
    – Patty
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:26
  • 7
    Literature reviews normally just talk about what the reviewed authors did, without using any first-person pronouns. After all, if you're writing about someone else's research in detail, you obviously read it.
    – JeffE
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:49
  • 4
    This is both field specific and context specific. By that I mean, first, I'm in a qualitative social field where the researcher is an actor in what is going on so "I" is there but "we" sounds mostly crazy, as if you have multiple personalities. Obviously different in other fields. Second, who is going to mark your master's thesis? If it is someone who cringes at any use of "I", you may want to just suck it up and go with "we". Really, the person to ask is your supervisor as they'll be able to navigate both sides of this. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


The answer is to ask your supervisor. Theirs is the only opinion that matters. It is unlikely that anyone except your supervisor and maybe your committee members will read your thesis.

I prefer "I" but that's irrelevant. I'm not your adviser.


It's typically frowned upon in manuscripts to use "I", regardless the circumstance. I've found that when asking why, people will often come up with wildly different reasons, but the end result is still the same.

In the situation that you specified, you don't have to use "we". I believe that the best alternative would be to say "the author" or "the researcher" (e.g. "the researcher studied different topics on the subject matter" or "the author identified 3 variables related to the model"). This way you get to keep away from the awkwardness of the passive voice while also avoiding using "I".

  • 2
    An exception to this rule could be the Acknowledgements (if the OP intends to have any). There, seeing the use of "I" is (at least at my university) not uncommon (as in: "I would like to thank my supervisor for (...) ").
    – user53923
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 19:48
  • 1
    Even better is to focus on the research, not the researcher. Instead of "The researcher studied..." you can use phrasing like "The research shows..."
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 19:56
  • @Buffy I tend disagree with this in some situations, simply because some studies are very much dependent on actual work that was done outside of the research. In my own thesis, I developed and delivering a MOOC, and it was important to talk about the process and experience of doing so. The way you suggest would have been difficult to apply in this circumstance. However, I will admit that in most cases, it probably would be better using your way. Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 20:28
  • @OmarEldahan, can you talk about "the process uses/developed...". Try to talk about the thing, rather than the person(s) doing the thing. Once you get in the flow of it you make it a natural way to write.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 20:49

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