Since you are asked to write an explanatory essay, an occasional self-reference may be appropriate. Use them sparingly and only when there is no other way to explain what you mean. You may call yourself “I” as long as you keep the number of first-person pronouns to a minimum. Less egocentric ways of referring to the narrator include “we” and “one.”

  • In my lifetime, I have seen many challenges to the principle of free speech.
  • We can see…
  • One must admit…

The method of self-reference you select is called the narrative voice of your essay. Any of the above narrative voices is acceptable. Nevertheless, whichever one you choose, you must be careful not to shift narrative voice in your essay.

If you use “I” in the first sentence, for example, do not use “we” in a later sentence.

INCORRECT: In my lifetime, I have seen many challenges to the principle of free speech. We can see how a free society can get too complacent when free speech is taken for granted.

It is likewise wrong to shift from “you” to “one.”

 Just by following the news, you can readily see how politicians have a vested interest in pleasing powerful interest groups. But one should not generalize about this tendency.

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