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The Royal "We"

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I love the Chicago Style Q&A. In the most recent edition, there’s a question that will amuse longtime readers of Talk of the Town:
Q. I am writing a thesis for my university and use the pronoun “we” instead of “I.” For example, “From this, we can conclude that …” I personally think this looks more scientific than using the “I” pronoun. However, a colleague of mine states that if I am the only one writing the thesis and doing the research, I should use “I,” because otherwise readers might wonder who else wrote the document. Do you know which one is better to use in my case?

A. “We” used to be more common in scholarly writing than it is now. The British use it more than Americans do. CMOS recommends using “I,” but if the literature in your field avoids this, you should follow suit. Either way, it’s fine to use “we” when referring to something that author and readers are implicitly doing together, as in your example.


Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin, Gawker’s sports blog, uses the royal we consistently, even in posts that are blatantly first-person narratives about things he’s done, and it’s a pretty funny technique. This oldie-but-goodie post about his trip to a sad Dennis Rodman book signing has some great examples:


Example: “We leaned over to her and asked if she wanted our jacket.” The cumulative effect is pretty funny, especially because when he’s writing more typical blog posts about sporting events that he hasn’t participated in, it doesn’t come off as a weird tic at all, and yet he’s really just consistent about it.

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