Analysing Pronouns In Research By Academics English Language Essay

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This paper review on the works of previous studies regarding the usage of personal pronouns in research articles. The review will look at the usage of personal pronouns in written corpora in different aspects; first looking at the use of personal pronouns as a whole in the world of academic writing and the differences in usage of personal pronouns among the native speakers of English and of those who uses English as a second language.

In recent study, there has been an interest in investigating voice-related issues in the study of student writing (Zhao & Llosa, 2008). McCrostie (n.d.) claims on the lack of research done to investigate the use of voice in non-native academic writing and fewer still, had been done on the studies below advanced level. Gender has also been mentioned as an area of study that has slowly gained attention in the study of second language research. Though this had been said, gender receives lack attention in the study of discourse; though many have claim of its importance as a mean and goal of language instruction. Thus, based on the issues above, the objective of this study is to investigate the usage of personal pronouns by male and female Malaysian academic writers.

According to Nordquist (2010), personal pronouns are defined as nouns that are used to substitute the person or people who are talked about. Examples of personal pronouns are presented in the table below as follows:

Personal Pronouns


















he, she, it

him, her, it



Adapted from 'Personal Pronouns' (2007-2010)

Literature Review

Personal pronouns

There has been extensive research on various features of academic writing and one of frequently looked at feature is the usage of personal pronouns in academic writing. Using personal pronouns in academic writing has been related to writer's voice and the writer's position in the academic world. Hyland (2001) states that the use of 'impersonality' has been proposed by manuals and textbooks as means of demonstrating scholarly persuasion and allowing writers to speak to readers in an 'unmediated' approach (as cited in Martin, n.d). The usage of personal pronouns in scientific writing sees a development from traditional notion towards recognition of this particular writing style. Martin further comments that writers' choice is announcing their presence in the academic field is viewed as a strategy that is increasingly used by writers of the international English speaking community in promoting and gaining accreditation on their claims in research. This is also supported by Cherry (1998) claiming on the importance of self-representation in academic discourse and Groom (1993) in his analysis of academic writing indicates the importance of writer's textual voice and states that writers should clearly state when they are reporting the voice of an author or stating their own expressions and personal point of views (as cited in Martin, n.d.)

Kuo (1999) investigated the use of personal pronouns in scientific journal articles and discusses on how writers are able to reveal on their own perception of their position in the academic field as well as other readers. Kuo further comments on how knowledge presented in article journals with the use of personal pronouns poses a great value towards writers as it allows writers to share personal contributions and seek solidarity with readers as well as others involved in the particular discipline. Hyland (2001) as cited in Martin (n.d.) supports this notion in his research articles across eight different disciplines on the attributions of personal pronouns, reporting a high proportion in the usage of personal pronouns in social sciences and humanities. Hyland concluded in his study that the usage of personal pronouns in scientific texts seems to be a valuable rhetorical strategy which allows writers to construct academic credibility and gain a certain degree of confidence and authority (as cited in Martin, n.d.). Tang & John (1999) in Martin (n.d.) also mentions the importance on the usage of personal pronouns however suggests that both teachers and students should be aware on 'the real presence' of how personal pronouns are used differently and other alternatives that can be opted towards the traditional method in claiming academic position and authority.

The Use of Personal Pronouns among Non-native Speakers

Martinez (2005) states on how using personal pronouns are not problematic for native, yet may pose as one on non-native speakers of English. Hyland (2000) conducted a study and revealed that non-native speakers' uses personal pronouns in non-controversial contributions however avoid them when stating expressions, argumentations or opinions (as cited in Martinez, 2005). In a study conducted by Petch-Tyson (1998 in Martinez, 20005), it was found that non-native speakers use personal pronouns at a rate of two to four times more than native speakers thus concluded that learners overused first and second personal pronouns in their writing. A different study done by Tang and John (1999) on 27 Singaporean university students showed the frequency of personal pronoun usage where first person pronoun occurred 92 times in all 27 essays which indicates a similar role to Hyland (1999, 2000) and Harwood (2005 as cited in Martinez, 2005).

Chang and Swales (1999) had also published a study concerning the attitudes of 37 non-native speaker graduate students studying at English universities regarding the use of personal pronouns in academic writing. From the study, it was found that regardless of their proficiency in the language, the students felt uncomfortable in using personal pronouns in academic writing. These graduate students believe that the use of personal pronouns is much more suitable to be used by senior scholars and states that using them makes academic writing more challenging. It was also found that these students rarely uses personal pronouns when giving opinions or stating the origin of a new idea (Chang and Swales, 1999 as cited in McCrostie, n.d.). McCrostie further commented that regardless of amount of studies focused on published writings, few studies had been done on unpublished writing of non-native speakers thus suggesting that there is a need to have more studies to compare unpublished writings among both native and non-native speakers which can also contribute knowledge to the study.

Gender and Personal Pronouns

As mentioned previously, very few researches have been conducted in the area of discourse with gender functions as a variable. Past researches focused on linguistic differences between gender and its role in the studies related to informal writing, speech and electronic messaging (Yazdani & Samar, 2010). Yazdani and Samar (2010) further stated that gender; as an effective tool in writing has not given much focus on its impact or role in the methodology of teaching writing thus, needs to cater to the arising issues academically. A study done by Yazdani and Samar (2010) on Iran writers revealed that female writers use more personal pronouns compared to males. A study conducted by Armagon et al. (n.d.) also revealed similar findings in their research.


This study adopts a quantitative approach. 10 articles were randomly selected where there is equal distribution among gender (5 males and 5 females). The articles were selected from GEMA Online Journal (Jurnal Pendidikan), the Malaysian Journal of ELT Research (MELTA) and The Open Applied Linguistics Journal. All research articles are from the Social Sciences field. The articles were then analyzed via Lex Tutor. The limitation to this study includes no control over the writers' race; thus the variable is not used as a factor in the study. Secondly, the authorship of research articles varies where several articles are written by single writers and few collaborative writers in single articles. Third, the research articles vary in terms of length resulting in imbalanced amount of words and personal pronouns that could be affected by it. Finally, the approaches regarding to the research articles were not taken into consideration. Few research articles were found to have a qualitative approach thus relying heavily on interviews or written transcripts thus may affect the outcome of the study.

Findings and Discussion

The findings obtained from the analysis are presented as following:

Research articles written by Malaysian males in frequency:


Personal Pronouns - Singular

Personal Pronouns - Plural







Male 1

- (21) it

- (19) they

- (2) them

Male 2

- (13) I

- (1) me

- (5) you

- (44) he

- (16) him

- (2) her

- (3) us

- (31) we

- (16) they

- (6) them

Male 3

- (26) I

- (1) you

- (95) he

- (15) him

- (31) it

- (3) her

- (7) we

- (2) us

- (24) they

- (11) them

Male 4

- (4) I

- (3) she

- (1) he

- (1) her

- (1) him

- (13) they

- (11) them

Male 5

- (41) I

- (2) me

- (1) she

- (10) we

- (19) they

- (7) them







Total: Personal Pronouns - Singular (327), Personal Pronouns - Plural (181)

According to the table above, it is found that Malaysian male writers' uses more singular personal pronouns compared to plural personal pronouns. Based on results, it is also found that Malaysian academic male writers use more 3rd personal pronouns for both singular and plural categories however the highest frequency among personal pronouns used are 3rd singular personal pronouns with a frequency of 234.

Among the personal pronouns used frequently by Malaysian male writers:


"HE is very selective towards whom HE directs the venom…." (male 2, 2002)

"In terms of average score, HE is the second highest…" (male 3, pg. 12)


"…and the enormous opportunity IT presents to higher education…" (male 1, pg. 4)

"…engaged in a particular task and how IT will improve their reading skills." (male 3, pg. 2)


"…done bad thing to HIM and this made HIM feel bad…" (male 2, pg. 10)

"…this particular strategy to help HIM comprehend what he is reading." (male 3, pg. 13)


"When these students enter university, THEY expect the spoon feeding…" (male 1, pg. 1)

"…particularly when THEY proceed to tertiary education." (male 3, pg. 2)

"…information elements did THEY instruct learners to find out…" (male 5, pg. 1)


"…, thus prompting THEM to pay more attention to metacognitive reading…" (male 3, pg. 3)

"…systems of the language that enables THEM to teach effectively." (male 4, pg. 1)

Research articles written by Malaysian females in frequency:


Personal Pronouns - Singular

Personal Pronouns - Plural







Female 1

(1) he

- (1) she

- (3) we

- (10) they

- (1) them

Female 2

- (16) I

- (1) me

- (20) you

- (2) he

- (5) her

- (4) his

- (3) she

- (40) it

- (3) us

- (15) we

- (59) they

- (14) them

Female 3

- (2) I

- (10) they

- (6) them

Female 4

- (3) I*

- (2) we

- (24) they

- (15) them

Female 5

- (19) I

- (2) me

- (62) you

- (1) she

- (14) he

- (11) her

- (3) him

- (5) we

- (3) us

- (25) they

- (6) them







Total: Personal Pronouns - Singular (207), Personal Pronouns - Plural (201)

Based on the table above, Malaysian female academic writers use more plural personal pronouns in writing their research articles. This finding is similar of their male counterparts. The findings also reveal that Malaysian female academic writers use more 3rd plural personal pronouns in academic writing unlike their male counterparts who uses a higher frequency of 3rd singular personal pronouns.

Among the personal pronouns used frequently by Malaysian female writers:


"What assumptions do YOU think administrators make about attire…" (female 2, pg. 6)

"If YOU have the main point…" (female 5, pg. 8)


"…real audience for the language task THEY were working on…" (female 2, pg. 1)

"…THEY can be changed through the learning process such as by using…" (female 4, 2)

"THEY generally respond in predictable ways rather than be critical." (female 5, pg. 4)


"…being presented with predetermined language structures and then practicing THEM." (female 2, pg. 2)

"It also requires THEM to state their name in order to enable…" (female 5, pg. 7)

Usage total of Personal Pronouns by males and females




Personal Pronouns - Singular



Personal Pronouns - Plural






Overall, the findings indicate that Malaysian male academic writers use more personal pronouns than Malaysian female academic writers. The findings obtained are not in line with previous research that was done by Yazdani and Samar (2010) in relation to non-native English speakers.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The findings had shed new insight on the use of personal pronouns between male and female Malaysian academic writers. In conclusion, there is no significant difference between the general use of personal pronouns among male and female writers. Both male and female writers were found to use more singular personal pronouns. However, there is a difference in terms of the personal pronouns used between male and female writers. Male writers were found to use higher frequency of 3rd singular personal pronouns whereas the female writers were found to use a higher frequency of 3rd plural personal pronouns. The findings have also revealed that male writers use more personal pronouns compared to female writers in the overall analysis.

However, as mentioned previously, the findings of this study may be affected by factors listed in the limitation section as this study is based on a small scale range. Therefore, the findings obtained in this study are still questionable thus several recommendations are proposed for future researches interested in the same area of study which are (a) to focus on research articles under the same area of study and approach; (b) to consider the writer's race as a variable and (c) to take into consideration of the length of research articles planning to be used in the study.

List of Research Articles: Male Writers

Subramaniam, G. (2006). "Stickability" in Online Autonomous Literature Learning Programmes: Strategies for Sustaining Learner Interest and Motivation. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. (2). 80-96.

Hazidi, H. A. H. (2002). Similar words, Different Meanings: A Natural Semantic Metalanguage Exploration of Cultural Differences. GEMA Online of Language Studies. (2)1. 1-13.

Muhammad Kamarul, K., Chew, J., & Abdul Rashid, M. (2006). Metacognitive Reading Strategies of Good Malaysian Chinese Learners. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. (2). 21-41.

Munir, S. (2009). Grammatical Awareness among Primary School English Language Teachers. GEMA Online of Language Studies. 9(1). 35-46.

Lim, J. M. H. (2009). Rhetorical Categories and Linguistic Mechanisms in Describing Research Conditions: A Comparative Genre-Based Investigation into Researchers' Choices in Education and Applied Linguistics. The Open Applied Linguistics Journal. 2. 67-85.

List of Research Articles: Female Writers

Ainol, M. Z. & Noor Lide, A. K. (2006). Classical and Rasch Analyses Of Dichotomously Scored Reading Comprehension Test Items. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. (2). 1-20.

Mardziah, H. A. & Tan, B. H. (2008). Wired Together: Collaborative Problem-Based Language Learning In an Online Forum. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. (4). 54-71.

Nor Shidrah, M. D., Nuraihan, M. D. & Noor Lide, A. K. (2005). Second Language Writing Anxiety: Cause or Effect? Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. 1-19.

Siti Norliana, G. (2008). Learner Background and their Attitudes towards Studying Literature. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research. (4). 1-17.

Tan, K. E. (2006). Writing English Essays within Dominant Discourses in Malaysian Schools. GEMA Online of Language Studies. 21. 23-45.