Political scientists on the functions of personal pronouns in their writing: An interview-based study of ‘I’ and ‘we’
In contrast to the numerous corpus-based studies of pronouns in academic writing, this paper uses qualitative interviews in an attempt to account for academic writers' motivations for using the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’ and to describe the textual effects that each case of ‘I’ and ‘we’ helps to create. Five political scientists took part in the research, commenting upon their pronoun use in one of their own journal articles and also in the other informants' texts. Seven textual effects that ‘I’ and ‘we’ help to construct are identified and described. ‘I’ and ‘we’ are said to help (i) make the readership feel included and involved in the writers' argument; (ii) make the text more accessible; (iii) convey a tentative tone and hedge writers' claims; (iv) explicate the writers' logic or method regarding their arguments or procedures; (v) signal writers' intentions and arguments; (vi) indicate the contribution and newsworthiness of the research; and (vii) allow the writer to inject a personal tenor into the text. The insights and implications of the study are discussed and the paper closes by proposing that similar interview-based studies could be used for pedagogical purposes in English for academic purposes (EAP) contexts.