‘We Do Not Seem to Have a Theory … The Theory I Present Here Attempts to Fill This Gap’: Inclusive and Exclusive Pronouns in Academic Writing
This paper is a qualitative and quantitative corpus-based study of how academic writers use the personal pronouns I and inclusive and exclusive we. Using a multidisciplinary corpus comprising of journal research articles (RAs) from the fields of Business and Management, Computing Science, Economics, and Physics, I present data extracts which reveal how I and we can help writers create a sense of newsworthiness and novelty about their work, showing how they are plugging disciplinary knowledge gaps. Inclusive pronouns can act as positive politeness devices by describing and/or critiquing common disciplinary practices, and elaborating arguments on behalf of the community. They can also organize the text for the reader, and highlight the current problems and subject areas which preoccupy the field. The quantitative analysis reveals that while all instances of we in the Business and Management articles and all but one of the instances of we in the Economics articles are inclusive, only a third of the instances in the Computing articles and under 10 per cent of the instances in the Physics articles are inclusive. The study ends with a brief discussion of what a few English for Academic Purposes (EAP) textbooks tell students about inclusive and exclusive pronouns, and offers some suggestions for EAP classroom activities.