“I” statements in student writing

Note to self: Find examples of scholars using “I” statements  / personal opinions well — supporting them with evidence, not using them, as many students do, as a way of saying, “I don’t have evidence, but it’s actually okay if I make this assertions because I believe it, because it’s my opinion,” or as a way of betraying the fact that “I actually don’t have any evidence for this assertion (my opinion) and/or I haven’t thought it through enough to develop my thought for my reader, so I’ll just state it as opinion because opinions shouldn’t be questioned.”

Here’s one possible example. From Ronald Thiemann’s “Public Religion: Bane or Blessing for Democracy?”

I am in complete agreement with Justice O’Connor. Whatever the merits of the Court’s finding regarding the separation of powers, the substantitive question of the meaning and application of the Free Exercise Clause remins the primary issue. Two cases decided in the last decade demonstrate the Court’s increasing tendency to restrict the free exercise of religion, particularly of minority religious traditions…. (81)

Need to collect a bunch of examples, though.

I had this little breakthrough in reading my students’ argument papers earlier this month– how students start to throw in “I” statements when their argument or support is weakening. They throw in the “I” statements in an attempt to shore up some of the sandy areas of their argument. I wish I had a specific example. I’ll try to add one later.

I tried to convey to my students that there was nothing wrong with using “I” (except in fields, like psychology that exclude it), that it was just that every assertion needed to be back up with evidence. But I obviously didn’t teach that point clearly enough.

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One thought on ““I” statements in student writing

  1. What about Gerald Graff’s This Say, I Say which talks explicitly about using “I” and models it. Of course Graff and Birkenstein have evidence for their “I say” in most cases. But look at his “Hidden Intellectualism” essay with its claims. And look at his chapter 9 on Metacommentary. Then you can contrast his version of “I say” with unsubstantiated “I says”. Can you ask students to “prove it” with an example? I’m interested in your friend’s blog description of her class last term because I tried a similar assignment in WR 222 asking students to narrate for me how they had come to a personal position – how the position had evolved through their life and experience, and most were unable to do so. They said they were for or against the right to abortion because “they knew it was right/wrong” but could not describe the steps how they had come to know this – from experience, family stories, films, books, classes, friends, church, etc. “I just know” – now I’m not discounting faith and intuition at work. But. This class is academic writing. Here’s a thought – students do seem quick to discount something as being biased (they often forget the -ed ending) – so could you challenge their unsubstantiated “I say” as biased until they provide some evidence?

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