Third Vs. First Person in a Dissertation

Writing a dissertation can be challenging, but knowing what point of view to use helps.
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It's debatable whether to use first and third person in a dissertation. Consensus has been to use third person, and avoid using the first person, "I." However, writers sometimes use metadiscourse, which has been accepted as a professional writing device. Metadiscourse is when a writer refers to herself or summarizes her work and thinking process. It includes the writer's reference to her intentions, confidence, directions to the reader or the progression of the writing while using the first person. Nonetheless, first person use in dissertations is up to the discretion of individual universities and professors.

1 Objectivity

First person is often discouraged in dissertation writing since it can blur objectivity. If the writer has to refer to herself within the writing, some experts, including Dr. Rosemary Talab from Kansas State University, suggest using "the researcher" or "the author."

2 Clarity

Avoiding the third person can also lead to confusion, as noted by the American Psychological Association. Referring to authors or the author in a sentence while also using an outside reference can make it unclear which author the writer is discussing. Not using the first person can also lead to anthropomorphism, having an inanimate object or concept, such as a study or experiment, take on human behavior. If a student's work has been composed in a group, the editorial "we" is appropriate. However, if it is an individual work, the author should refrain from using the plural and rely on the singular "I."

3 Consistency

When considering point of view for a dissertation, universities, including the University of Maine, commonly instruct students to choose one and use the same perspective throughout the dissertation to avoid confusion and maintain uniformity.

4 Dissertation Committee

The best action is for students to discuss their choice of first person over third person with their committee members and consult their graduate school's guidelines for accepting the dissertation. Doing so will ensure that the proper style is submitted. For example, the University of North Carolina Wilmington suggests that dissertations be written in the third person, but acknowledges that first person could be applicable in certain cases.

Jeanette Garcia works as an adjunct professor for writing and rhetoric I and II and as a writing tutor at Florida International University. When she's not sleeping, eating, teaching, watching films or reading, she writes.