The Flinders University School of Humanities Style Guide

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Appropriate Language

Tone Use of the first person (“I”) Tense


A clear and concise style is the ideal for academic essays. Language should be formal, inclusive and inoffensive. Avoid the use of technical jargon, and of bureaucratically influenced language. Avoid also gratuitous language; for example, do not write “As the well-known American filmmaker, Orson Welles, shows in his excellent film Citizen Kane …”. Instead, “As Orson Welles shows in Citizen Kane …” is perfectly sufficient, and much more appropriate in an academic context.


Use of the first person (“I”)

When outlining your ideas in an essay, there is no need to write “in my opinion”, “I think”, or “I believe”, because your readers can assume that your essay puts forward your point of view. There is no general prohibition against the writing in the first person; after all, no critical voice is ever objective, even if it seems to be. If you do choose to refer to yourself explicitly, the School would prefer that you use “I”, rather than “the writer” or “this writer”.



When you write about the action in a novel, poem or film, or about the arguments made by a scholar, keep consistently to the present tense. After all, neither the characters nor the arguments are dead, even if they are written about outside of their historical or biographical context; they live again every time you experience the text or engage with the argument. For example, you should write: “Shylock feels strongly that he is discriminated against as a Jew”. On the other hand, when referring to historical events, do use the past tense: “The Merchant of Venice was probably written about 1596”.


Flinders University has adopted several policies regarding communication in appropriate, inclusive and inoffensive language.



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MHRA Referencing

Flinders University Library

Professor Graham Tulloch of the English Department has written a booklet entitled English Grammar: A Short Guide. This text covers fundamental aspects of English grammar, such as parts of a word, parts of a sentence, and parts of speech

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