Using “I” in Articles

By: Megan Stein

We like to talk about ourselves. Whether it be with our close friends, family members or even in the classroom, our favorite examples are often taken from our personal lives. But, when it comes to writing, putting yourself in the story is not always the best decision. When is putting “I” in the story appropriate and when should you go the extra lengths to cut yourself out?

Using "I" can be a deal breaker for many stories.Photo by: Megan Stein

A recent article featured on FolioMag.com discussed the various ways that journalism has evolved over the years and how slowly but surely, the author has creeped into the main plot of the story. Some authors have gone so far as to insult their interviewees or make personal judgments clear to the audience.

For example, in a Vanity Fair article featuring Katy Perry, the author, Lisa Robinson, made her subject seem stupid. Even though Robinson continued to use an example from her personal life that tried to make the comment about Perry having to ask what a word meant less insulting, it still makes it obvious to the reader that the writer thinks her subject is on a lower level of intelligence.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, personal experience articles can be some of the most important stories. They allow the reader to connect with the reporter on a deeper level and showcase the human side of the writer. Instead of the story being written by an unknown entity, personal experience in a story can build trust and confidence in the writer. Trust, especially in the age of new media, is one of the most important ways a writer can create a following and become successful.

I have a hard time deciding how to approach this topic. Some stories require “I” to be mentioned because it completes the story. However, as the article mentions, the writer does not need to include themselves in the story every time. Their opinions are not always necessary and should, therefore, be left out of the article. Sometimes there isn’t a cut and dry answer to a question and the decision lies in the hands of the writer.

Personal experience can often make or break a story. Do you prefer to include yourself in articles? Do you often find yourself not caring enough about the writer to read their experience?

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11 responses to “Using “I” in Articles

  1. Sometime “I” isn’t always the expert. This is a tricky one indeed. I guess it just depends on the context of the article. Personal experience and opinion pieces are appropriate times to use “I”. Or at least that’s what I think.

    • I agree with that. Opinion pieces are especially important. But do you think it is inappropriate to put yourself in the story when your opinion isn’t needed? Such as with the Katie Perry story above? The writer did not need to include that information about Perry being confused, but she did anyway to prove a point that Perry wasn’t that smart. Do you think that is ok?

      • I think it detracts from the subject of the story when the writer uses “I” or a personal reference. When pitching the story, the focus was probably on Katy Perry’s life, not the writer’s opinion of her intelligence. As long as the writer sticks to what they pitch, the editor won’t be surprised by the writer’s pronoun usage.

  2. I have a hard time with this one as well. I think it all depends on the context of the article. If it helps to give the story depth, then I say go for it! But if only hurts people within the article or is biased toward one side of an argument, leave it out. It’s really a judgment call for the writer and the editor to decide when it’s necessary and when it’s just clutter.

  3. Emily - Drake University

    That’s a good question. I agree that it depends on the topic, but I don’t have any one method I use for determining whether or not it is necessary to use “I” in a story. Personal experience should be included if it helps the reader understand the information or identify with the subject. I don’t think it should be included if it creates a bias in the article, unless it is an opinion piece or blog or something of that sort.

    • I like the way you stated this. I also think it’s kind of cool that each person has a similar, yet different response to when they think it is acceptable to use “I”. I just hope that enough journalists have good judgment when it comes to choosing.

  4. There are definitely stories that better lend themselves to “I,” and stories that should be told in the third person. I agree with Emily in that a quirky opinion article might be enhanced by using the first person. (Then again, I couldn’t say that for sure unless it was my judgement call.)

    Above all, a writer needs to keep the audience in mind. Can you convey your viewpoint or opinion on an article without using the word “I?” What’s the style of the publication? Are you going for casual or formal? These are all questions to consider when crafting a story.

  5. As you’ve all said, I think it depends on the story. If it’s an opinion or personal experience piece, go for it. For everything else, it’s challenging. I think it’s definitely easier to use the word “I” in a story, and amateur writers often don’t think about when they use it. It’s one of those things that, like you said, can make or break an article. I think if you know how to use it, and it fits with the style and voice of the story and magazine, you’re in the clear.

  6. I love opinion writing, and getting my opinion out on paper. In those situations I am all for using I. As for other stories, I say keep it out. If you really want to get a personal feel find another person to talk about and humanize the story in that way. Using “I” is so tricky because it can make your story look bias or maybe not as creditable. But like any other expectation if you’re a good writer then there will always be a way to “I” work in the story.

  7. I try to take myself out of the article with most of my writing. I think this is especially applicable for journalism writing that should be neutral. I care about the writer’s opinion if her aim is to tell me about something she experienced directly or in an opinion piece. If the article is supposed to focus on someone else, like Katy Perry, or someone else’s experiences, the writer shouldn’t place herself in the article. I don’t read the article for the writer unless I know that’s the focus. Otherwise, as you have stated, opinions and judgments through personal experience of the writer just seem rude, misplaced and inappropriate.

    • I think that’s a really good way to put it and clears up a lot of questions. I like how you mention the focus and how the reader should know what it is immediately when they begin reading a piece.

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