“Formal” writing lesson. Don’t run away!
In professional, technical and academic writing, the pronouns you and I are not often used. (Of course, this blog is informal and should be read as a monologue of thrilling import from me to you, during which you think of something clever to post in the comment section below. So do as I say, not as I’m doing.)
Why not use “you” or “I”?
“I” often accompanies apologetic language.
Phrases like ”I think” weaken your stance. Unless specifically directed to give a personal review of something, just express opinions as if they were fact.
I think Tillamook ice cream is the best value for the money because I really like the size of the chocolate chips they use.
Tillamook ice cream, with its large chocolate chips, is the best value on the market.
[By the way, that's true...]
“You” & “I” switches the focus from the real subject.
When, for example, you begin a sentence with “I”, you’ve put yourself as the subject, when in fact, you’re talking about a business proposal or a genetically engineered totato. By taking the “I” count down (or out), it keeps the reader pointed to the topic.
I found that the Aquasnook 2000 outperformed the competition in five key areas.
That sentence puts emphasis on the fact that I found something. Ain’t I special? Well…maybe, but the point was supposed to be the Aquasnook 2000. So chop the first three words of that sentence and let the focus be where it belongs.
The reader may not always identify with the “you”.
One must be careful when saying something like, “You all know that the plural of platypus is…” because perhaps the reader does not know; or saying, “Like the sick feeling you get when you wake up in a sleazy, cheap hotel” because hopefully the reader does not know.
The use of “you” and “I” sounds conversational.
In formal writing, the objective is not a chummy chat. It is about transferring information as efficiently as possible. Kind of a “Just the facts, please” thing.
So how do I say it?
You must be careful when inserting the electronubble in the floobing tube, or the chemicals may overheat and burn your nose.
…try using the generic “one” method (which avoids gender pronoun juggling)…
One must be careful when inserting the electronubble in the floobing tube, or the chemicals may overheat and burn one’s nose.
…or, insert a new subject, preferably plural so as not to have to putz with gender possessive pronouns…
Chemists must be careful when inserting the electronubble in the floobing tube, or the chemicals may overheat and burn their noses.
…or the old stand-by, passive voice…
Care must be taken when inserting the electronubble in the floobing tube, or noses may be burned.
See how much more formal that sounds? Like a text book! A vital writing skill in some sectors.
I hope this helped you, and if you have any comments, this is the time to share.