The Mysterious “They”

Have you ever wondered who the “mysterious they” are, when reading a blog entry, article, paper, or book, possibly even an academic one? “They say this” and “They say that” clearly does not say much at all. “They” seem important as supposed authorities on a certain subject; “they” even likely have something important to say. For example, they say that consuming too much sugar will cause a person to put on weight. Nonetheless, who really are “they”? I do not know. Do you?

Of course, I too have been caught using the “mysterious they” in my own writing. I recall being admonished by one of my professors to state exactly who “they” are. I recently just corrected one of my own students on this as well. Thus, the more specific we are in our writing, the better writers we will be. We want to communicate as clearly as possible to our readers.

For those writing academic material, if “they” cannot be backed up by citing real scholars or authorities in our respective fields, then we need to overhaul our manuscripts. We must show we have done our research and can confidently present our arguments/ideas/concepts, to stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny.

For those writing non-academic works or even fictional pieces, if “they” as a pronoun does not have an antecedent, then our readers are puzzled as to who “they” are. Sometimes, we become lazy, tired, or we subconsciously think the reader can read our thoughts because we ourselves can. We write disjointed sentences, so that our readers cannot figure out who said what.

Again, clarity is key. It gives a greater voice to our thoughts and needs to be something we are constantly striving for as writers. But it takes practice. Be patient. You are on your way to becoming a better writer!


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