Using “You” in Composition

As an English professor, anytime a student employs the use of second person, I cringe.  How many times must I tell them not to use “you.”  I read lines in argument papers that crash into the concepts of Academic Discourse, “The character is unsettled because when you leave home you feel feelings of guilt.”  I do?  “Thank you for telling me what I feel,” I say in class.  They laugh; they appear to get the gist of why one should not use second person in an analytical argument essay.

They appear to. 

This “you” problem is facing me in bold font.  The past year and a half in particular, demonstrates an overuse of second person as well as a disregard for how unsophisticated it can sound and read in a paper. 

As a professor, “you” and I are in an on-going battle.  As a blogger, well, it’s a different story.  Since I created, I myself have been using “you.”  When I write on the website, Pink Curlers & Post Scripts, I purposely entwine second person throughout.  This is a basic blogging technique.  Readers want to feel closer to the blogger’s voice.  The use of second person enhances the ties between the post and the reader.  The blog article emits qualities comparable to a friend.  As I strive to strengthen Pink Curlers & Post Scripts, I research effective blogging strategies; the use of “you” is encouraged and recommended.

So, if I can differentiate between my blogging voice and my academic voice, why can’t my students?

Recently, since the inception of the “pink” blog, I have had an epiphany.  So much writing online employs the use of “you” as a technique to engage and familiarize readers.  As students more avidly read material online, the use of second person comes naturally to the computer screen.  Why not help readers understand complex abstract concepts with the use of “you,” just as the internet explains so much to them with “you?”

Students are most familiar with familiarity.  Think of how intimate reality TV is, of online dating, of YouTube videos streamed from bedrooms, sexting, self-designed porn, advertisements claiming to make “you” better.  If this familiar voice is what a student connects with mostly, the student his/herself will use this “effective” method of expression and connection on a research or argument paper.  I imagine students must feel awkward, harsh, robotic when they eliminate their first and second person voices.

While I don’t want to enable the use of second person in Academic Discourse, I can at least try to understand why so many of my students find it acceptable and second nature. 

Now, however elementary my theory on the overuse of “you” is, I have an answer, a reason, context and empathy.  I can now explain to them that there is a place online for “you,” but there is no place for it on my desk. 


2 thoughts on “Using “You” in Composition

  1. I agree. As a social media marketer and blogger, one must use the ‘you.’ The online culture is conversational, and even the most notable corporations will employ these ordinary habits of speaking to engage the crowd. However, for academic purposes, one must know how to write without resorting to our comfortable ‘you.’

    Liked by 1 person

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