As an author, you are singular. So ditch the editorial “we.”

If you are an author, you really should stop writing about yourself in the plural. Unless you are royalty or have a multiple personality disorder, it’s fine to say “I.”

For example, “Next, I’ll explain three steps you need to follow to begin investing in bonds,” or “I’m sure you’re wondering why publishers aren’t more helpful with developmental editing.”

Why you say “we”

First off, your writing teachers in high school and college told you to never write “I.” They did this because they didn’t want your essays to be full of “I think” and “I believe” and similar phrases. They wanted to reinforce that, as a student, your personal opinion didn’t matter. That was probably wrong, but you did what you were told to get a better grade, and you internalized the lesson: “Don’t write in the first-person singular.”

Working in organizations, you also probably read plenty of text that include the organizational “we.” As in “We’ll now explain what you have to do to sign up for health insurance” or “We are no longer going to allow working from home.” These writers were writing on behalf of the organization, so they didn’t want write as if it were just their own opinion; it sounds far more authoritative to read “We want you to adopt the company’s mission as your own,” rather than “I want you to adopt the company’s mission.”

You have also likely read the editorial “we.” On opinion pages, editors often write things like “We are dead-set against tax increases that affect low-income residents,” or “We believe that IT staff in any large organization should migrate all services to the cloud.” For example, in my own past as a technology analyst, my editors trained me to write all recommendations and observations in the first-person plural because that signaled that my opinion as an analyst reflected the sentiments of the entire research organization.

After consuming all that advice and writing, it’s no wonder that authors write about themselves in the plural. But that doesn’t make it right.

Just say “I”

Nonfiction authors should be making an impression. They should take responsibility for their ideas and recommendations. That means when you talk about yourself, you should do it in the first-person singular.

Authors obviously do this when recollecting personal stories: “I first encountered this with a client in the financial services industry.”

But somehow, when they talk about their own text, they slide into the editorial “we”: “We’ll describe this in the next three chapters.” Assuming you’re one author, say “I’ll describe this.” That enables the reader to relate to you as an individual, reinforcing the author-reader relationship.

I’ve noticed that authors are most likely to slip into writing in the plural when they are insecure. But writing “We believe you should never use work email on vacation” isn’t going to save you from responsibility for what you wrote. Own it. Write “I.”

There are a limited set of exceptions where it makes sense to write “we.”

If you have a coauthor, you’re obviously not singular, so it’s fine to say “Next, we’ll get to . . .” and odd to say “Next, I’ll get to . . .” (There is a challenge here when one of the coauthors is telling a personal story. When I am a coauthor, I usually address that by writing something like “I (Josh) first encountered this when I traveled to Asia,” to signal that what follows does not apply to both coauthors.)

You can use “we” to refer to yourself and a collection of readers together, in a general statement, for example, “We all have occasions where procrastination overwhelms us.” (Here’s a post on how best to use “we” and “you” in business writing.)

My preference is to avoid “we” in the context of a conspiracy between you (reader) and me (writer). As in “We are about to take a journey together through the world of your psychological motivations,” or “Next, we will discuss how best to prepare your resume when there are gaps in your experience.” These aren’t strictly wrong, but I prefer to think of myself as writing to a reader, not having a “discussion,” since the reader doesn’t have an opportunity to talk back to the author.

Unless these exceptions apply, stop writing about yourself in the plural. We readers would all be better off if you took personal responsibility for what you’re writing. Just say “I.”

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  1. Also, journalists should stop writing, “When asked by a journalist whether …” and “The official told a journalist, …” when the writer IS that journalist.