How do competent authors, in a refined and perhaps (slightly) formal way, refer to themselves without saying I? I've seen the term "this writer" somewhere. How is it with a native? Are there other terms that are a little bit more formal and delicate than I is?
Use of pronouns like "I" and "me" in a narrative will tend to cast the writer as the protagonist. Use of other forms such as "yours truly" or non-reflexive "myself" tends to cast the author into a "supporting character" role.
Suppose someone is writing about Mr. Smith's performance in a chess tournament and, after saying "In round one, Mr. Smith played against Alec Jones" and describing his performance in that round, went on to say "In round two, Mr. Smith played against me". A reader might expect the description of the round to be focused on the writer, rather than on Mr. Smith. If instead the text had been "In round two, Mr. Smith played against yours truly."
Some people cringe at non-reflexive usages of "myself". I personally don't find them objectionable when used in either the imperative or passive voice, with the purpose of suggesting semantic equivalence between the person writing or speaking and others. For example, if Mr. Smith asks people "Please submit reports to Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Jones, or to me", that would suggest that submissions to him would be perceived differently. Using the non-reflexive "...or to myself" would suggest that the set of people to whom forms may be submitted includes him, but he has no special significance within that set.
Even though the non-reflexive "myself" is often useful, there are many places where it just doesn't work, especially with the active voice, or when used with verbs that would be amenable to reflexive usage. For narrative situations, "yours truly" is concise but effective; it conveys no implication that the character in the story were affected by the fact that they would later be written about. By contrast, "this author" implies that the writer's status as an author was significant to the events described.
What's important is to recognize that there are many ways an author can refer to himself, and usage of forms other than simple first-person pronouns is not merely a matter of being "cute", but often carries somewhat different meanings and implications.
Many competent writers will challenge the assertion that "the perpendicular pronoun" (I) really needs to be avoided. Others seem to believe that only third person is acceptable, or that no person should ever be mentioned unless specifically talking about people.
My own take is that this is all a matter of style, and whatever you pick -- as long as it sounds natural and you're consistent about it -- is probably fine. If I'm writing for my employer, I'll follow my employer's style guidelines. If I'm writing for publication, I'll follow the publication's preferences. If I'm writing without those constraints, my writing is generally only slightly more formal than my speech.
It seems to depend on the context, and even more so on the type of writing. Some answers have addressed it, it's strange that none have aggregated different scenarios where one would want to avoid referring to oneself directly.
- In journalism, it's generally frowned upon to use "I." I've seen many cases of "your correspondent" in most of the articles I read. "Your author" is also possible, though maybe not so much for journalism.
- In most scientific cases, authors sometimes avoid using a reference to themselves entirely by using the passive voice. I found that this is common here.
- In other academic scenarios, many do use "I" but I've seen many research papers which use "we" even when referring to the single author. Mathematic proofs, for example, always say "we know that..." or "we can see from ... that..."
Of course it's always good to do a bit of research on the particular scenario in which you are.
I see two main contexts:
The author of the work is also relevant to the subject under discussion. Then the author should use the third person and a name. "Reports must be submitted in triplicate to both Itsme and Steve Jessop". "Mr. Jessop has responsibility for X, whereas Itsme handles Y". It might matter which of us wrote that text, we might have collaborated on it. Someone who cares can check the top of the document, but it's not relevant to the matter at hand, so let's not mess about identifying professional responsibilities relative to authorship of the document.
The author wants to personalize the authorial voice. This generally isn't what you want in formal writing, but might be done from an excess of ego or an excess of honesty that you're writing a personal opinion or experience.
In this case, assuming you want to avoid "I", then you say "the author", "this author", "this reviewer", "this observer", and so on. Identify the role whose point of view you're trying to inject. So for example a journalist who attended a political event might first lay out the facts in the usual way, and then mention "this observer" when giving a more subjective view: "Following the speeches a fistfight occurred, but this observer was unable to determine who started it" makes clear that even to those in the room it was not necessarily obvious what was going on.
Whether you should want to avoid "I" at all is probably outside the scope of the question, but personally I think it depends in large part on whether you think the reader knows or cares who is addressing them. Extreme case, a newspaper report with no by-line shouldn't use "I", because the reader can't know who that is even if they want to. Even with a by-line, a reporter's style avoids it. An opinion piece has a lot more scope to use "I".
This writer is correct.
Exercise has many benefits. Proponents of exercise find there is a large variety of exercise options to fit different lifestyles. Barack Obama goes running in the morning. Jane Doe attends a weekly dancing class. I myself do press ups and stomach crunches in between writing stints through out the day.
The writer can remove the first person perspective by replace 'I myself' with 'this writer'.
Exercise has many benefits. Proponents of exercise find there is a large variety of exercise options to fit different lifestyles. Barack Obama goes running in the morning. Jane Doe attends a weekly dancing class.This writer does press ups and stomach crunches in between writing stints through his writing day.
In the natural sciences, the use of the personal pronouns "I" (for one author) and "we" (for two or more authors) is perfectly fine. In fact, you must use these pronouns, if you refer to yourself!
For example the Manual (2009) of the American Psychological Association clearly states (pp. 69-70):
Attribution. Inappropriately or illogically attribution action in an effort to be objective can be misleading. Examples of undesirable attribution include use of the third person, anthropomorphism, and use of the editorial we.
Third person. To avoid ambiguity, use a personal pronoun rather than the thrid person when describing steps taken in your experiment.
We reviewed the literature.
The authors reviewed the literature.
Anthropomorphism. Do not attribute human characteristics to animals or to inanimate sources.
The staff for the community program was persuaded to allow ...
The community program was persuaded to allow ...
An experiment cannot attempt to demonstrate, control unwanted variables, or interpret findings, nor can tables or figures compare (all of these can, however, show or indicate). Use a pronoun or an appropriate noun as the subject of these verbs. I or we (meaning the author or authors) can replace the experiment.
Editorial we. For clarity, restrict your use of we to refer only to yourself and your coauthors (use I if you are the sole author of the paper). Broader uses of we may leave your readers wondering to whom you are referring; instead substitute an appropriate noun or clarify your usage:
As behaviorists, we tend to dispute ...
We tend to dispute ...
The fundamental rule of all APA syle are "precision and clarity" (p. 68):
"Make certain that every word means exactly what you intend it to mean."
See also this post in the APA Style Blog: Use of First Person in APA Style.
In legal writing there is an easy answer: you refer to the roles played rather than the individuals who undertook them. So if you are writing a brief and complaining that the judge did something you didn't like, you wouldn't write, "the judge did not let me present evidence" but, "counsel for plaintiff was prevented from presenting evidence." Because in this context personalities do not matter.
While this question is directed towards non-fiction, the winds of what the French call "autofiction" are blowing and I think we will see a greater use of the first person in all types of writing. Even though Rimbaud famously wrote, "Je est un autre." (I is someone else.)
If the writer is truly an expert, then they refer to themselves so enigmatically that they set the 2000-year-old standard for how to subtly promote oneself:
Use "I" all you want. I was taught the same thing in school: "don't use "I" because of whatever". That's total BS.
If you haven't already, read "Journey to the End of the Night" by Celine, one of the best books in French literature. You'll see how you can write a masterpiece not just using "I" everywhere, but also making intentional grammar/syntax errors in every other sentence!
PS: the book is translated from the French at Project Nutenberg, for free...