PS: Political Science & Politics

The Teacher

Should “I” Be Avoided or Embraced? Exploring Divergence between Political Scientist and Student Writing Norms

Edward L. Lascher Jr.a1 and Daniel Melzera2

a1 California State University, Sacramento

a2 California State University, Sacramento


Political science instructors commonly emphasize the importance of effective writing. However, it is unclear that students either understand or share the norms about what this entails. A notable example is the appropriate use of voice. Prior literature has shown that academic writers often believe it is appropriate to use the pronoun “I” for a variety of rhetorical purposes but suggests that students may be unaware of this reasoning. We examine this topic by determining more precisely how commonly “I” is used in a major political science journal, conducting a survey of political science undergraduate students at a large comprehensive university, and interviewing political science faculty at the same university. Although each group's attitudes are complex, we find evidence that students' views commonly conflict with disciplinary norms. We close by considering the implications for teaching about writing in political science.

Edward L. Lascher, Jr. is interim dean, College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies and professor of public policy and administration at California State University, Sacramento. His research interests include direct democracy, political deliberation, political parties, regulatory policy, and state and local elections. He can be reached at

Daniel Melzer is university writing and reading coordinator at California State University, Sacramento.. His research interests include writing across the curriculum, writing program administration, and writing for multiple literacies. He can be reached at