Answered By: Jonathan Faerber (he/him/his)
Last Updated: Jan 09, 2024     Views: 26

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of “human characteristics to animals or to inanimate sources” (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 117).

For example:

  • Their research project looked at the differences between two groups of students.
  • This paper will recommend several strategies to improve enrolment and retention of first-generation students.
  • The APA Style manual argued that “many acceptable constructions in widespread use to not constitute anthropomorphism because they do not impede understanding or mislead readers” (2020, p. 117).

In these three cases, the words “look”, “recommend”, and “argued” are used figuratively to humanize non-human things or ideas. According to section 4.11 of the manual (quoted above), as an alternative, writers may “pair active verbs with human actors” (APA, 2020, p. 117). That is, instead of saying that a project or paper “look” at or “recommend” things, these words can be used literally when connected with the humans responsible for these actions. For example:

  • The researchers looked at the differences between two groups of students.
  • I will recommend several strategies to improve enrolment and retention of first-generation students.

Finally, in some cases these active verbs can be replaced with more generic verbs make when used literally:

  • The APA Style manual includes the following advice for writers: “many acceptable constructions in widespread use to not constitute anthropomorphism because they do not impede understanding or mislead readers” (2020, p. 117).

Consider asking your instructor for their opinion if you are unsure whether some forms of anthropomorphism are acceptable in an assignment. If you would like to learn about alternatives to anthropomorphism in academic writing, please contact the Writing Centre or visit Avoid Anthropomorphism With Pronouns.

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000