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“We” or “I”? Why Not Both?

Sometimes we slavishly follow the rules of writing, when we ought to focus on communicating. We try to never split an infinitive. (I just did!) We’re put off by contractions. (Did you notice mine?) And we avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction. (Why?)

Graphic illustrating that it is okay to use both "we" and "I". The focus should be on communication with your readers.

Another “rule” people take too far is to avoid using the pronouns I and we in the same message. But why shouldn’t we mix them? Here is a perfectly good example that incorporates both:

We are looking forward to working with you on the fair housing project. I will phone you next week to plan our first meeting.

Here is another that works just fine:

I was so pleased to get your message yesterday afternoon. We are delighted that you have accepted the position.

Yesterday I got an email asking whether the head of an organization ought to use we, since the person represents the entire organization. The answer is an emphatic sometimes! At times, the individual will write as himself. At other times, he will be the voice of the organization, as in this example:

We are making every effort to comply with the new standards by January 1.

Even with the example above, a mix of I and we is fine:

We are making every effort to comply with the new standards by January 1. I am personally committed to meeting the deadline.

Follow the rules of business writing to produce clear, compelling documents. But if a sentence sound fine with a but at the beginning, use but. And if you want to use I and we in the same message, do it! Just make sure you communicate with your readers.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.