Word Choice – I or We

Aarani’s question: “I always find myself wondering whether to use ‘I’ or ‘we.’  I was writing an email just a few minutes ago and wrote ‘I appreciate your help.’  This was directed to an external contact. Would it be better to use ‘I’ or ‘we’ — as in my collective team/company?”

BizWritingTip response: “I” means you personally and “we” means your organization. I assume in this situation it is you directly and not all your colleagues who are grateful. Therefore, I would stick with the “I.” But if everyone in your office is jumping for joy, go with the “we.”

I recall being told years ago never to interchange “I” and “we” in the same document. If you remember this – let it go. You can mix it up now.

Oftentimes, in public letters written by organizations to explain a problem or justify an action, you see them start with a general remark such as “we are sorry.” In other words, the whole company is remorseful. Then near the end — close to the signature of the “writer” — the phrase changes to “I apologize.” This creates an even more personal note. It is highly effective.

Note: The more personal pronouns (I, you, or we) you use in a document, the warmer the tone and the greater the likelihood of your readers paying attention. That is why formal reports are often boring. The only personal pronoun they contain is “it.”

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