Whether it was for a course assignment or a peer-reviewed article, at some point you were probably told that neutral and passive writing is preferred. You should write something like 'The physics of frog levitation is described', which should sound objective, stressing the subject discussed rather than the author doing the discussion. Another possibility would be to use first-person singular pronouns -- as in 'I describe the physics behind frog levitation'. Some feel that this choice overly stresses the actions taken by the author, overly glorifying herself. The third possibility is using first-person plural -- as in 'We describe the physics behind frog levitation'. This choice supposes to feel participative, as if the author and the audience are collaborating.
Wondering what people actually choose to do, I turned to the REPEC database on economic papers. This database is pretty great for the kind of questions I look at in this post! First, it contains much data on individual authors. Second, in Economics it is common (relative to other fields) for papers to be single authored. I scraped about 60,000 abstract of articles published in Economics journals over the last 30 years and checked whether no pronouns were used (passive), first-person singular pronouns were used, or first-person plural pronouns were used. To the best of my knowledge, there is no real consensus in the field of Economics about which should be used, as seen in the back-alleys of economic discourse here, here, and here.
Before checking what single authors alone do, I start with seeing what pronouns all articles (single-authored or not) use. The following graph tracks the change in the usage of first-person in Economics articles over time.
Now lets look only at single-authored articles. The next graph follows the fraction of articles using passive, first-person singular, and first-person plural pronouns over time.
What do experienced, well-published single authors do? Are they more confident and use 'I' more often? Or are they perhaps more traditional, using passive writing more often?
In any case.. what will you do the next time you write an single-authored academic paper?