Creswell Did Not Write About You: Common Mistakes in Citing 'I' Statements -->

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Creswell Did Not Write About You: Common Mistakes in Citing 'I' Statements

At the Writing Center, we often comment on sentences like these:

During the analysis phase of my qualitative study, I will organize data into themes (Creswell, 2012).

Counselor Smith should not engage in a romantic relationship with her former patient Fred because it has been just 2 years since Fred’s treatment ended (American Counseling Association, 2005).

The sentences are clear, they cite the source, and they follow APA style—so what’s the problem?

Did the source you're citing write about you or your study?

In the example sentences above, the student clearly wants to use information from a source, but that information is getting jumbled with his own actions (the first example) and an assigned scenario (the second example). Because of the parenthetical citation, he is implying that he read about himself in the Creswell book and about Counselor Smith in the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. Creswell did not write about this student in his book, however, and the Code of Ethics did not discuss Counselor Smith specifically. As writers, we often create these types of sentences when trying to justify the procedures of our study, the actions in our classroom or hospital, or the decision we would make in a particular case. To avoid confusing readers, we need to revise.

Separation Equals Clarity

To revise sentences like the examples above, first revisit the information. Return to the source and ask yourself, What exactly does Creswell say about themes? What exactly does the American Counseling Association mandate about romantic relationships? Write the information down in an isolated sentence, removed from what you as the author are doing or advocating. Then, in the next sentence, add your action or claim and show how it relates to the information.

Example revisions:

Creswell (2012) stated that data should be organized into themes in qualitative studiesntences together.topic or theme? Once you have determined that, write a topic sentence that can serve as the glue hol. Therefore, I will assign specific colors to themes and code interviewee responses accordingly.

According to the American Counseling Association (2005), counselors are not permitted to have relationships with past patients until 5 years after the professional contact. Fred’s treatment ended just 2 years ago, so it is not ethical for Counselor Smith to begin a romantic relationship with him.

[No citation is needed in the second sentences because they are the author’s own explanations.]

Placement Is Everything

If you want to be more nuanced with your writing, you can try to put the source information and your application all in the same sentence. Just be careful to place the citation in a way that tells the reader what information is from the source.

Example revisions:

Qualitative data should be organized into themes (Creswell, 2012), so I will assign specific colors to themes and code interview responses accordingly.

[Notice how the Creswell citation goes immediately after the information from that source. There is no citation with the “I” part of the sentence.]

In accordance with the American Counseling Association’s (2005) rules about relationships, Counselor Smith is not permitted to have a romantic relationship with her former patient Fred.

[In combining everything into one sentence, this example loses a lot of its detail. You might find that using two sentences allows you to fully express both the evidence and your explanation.]

Do you have similar sentences in your own writing? Help us gather more examples, and we’ll help you revise them. Just leave your examples in the comments!

Writing Instructor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Writing Initiatives Hillary Wentworth is attending a writing retreat this month. We look forward to hearing about her experiences when she returns!


  1. Thank you, this information will improve my writing greatly.

    1. So glad to hear it! Thanks for your comment!