Some research students who have many years of experience working in a government agency or as a practitioner in a field for example, say that they "know" certain things are true based on their extensive personal experience and wonder whether they can rely on this in their scholarly writing. It is probably unwise to try to make a definitive statement on this question, but the following guidelines might be useful.

  • There are a number of potential problems with personal experience. First, who's to say your experience is common to others? Maybe it is unique to your particular context. Second, who's to say that observations that haven't been carefully collected and analysed are accurate? Maybe you've been misinterpreting what is happening or ascribed the wrong cause to an effect. For these reasons, personal experience can't usually be used to "prove" anything, but that doesn't mean they can't be used at all.
  • It may be possible in some cases to say something like: "My experience from [what is your experience?] suggests that ...". That is, the use of the hedge word, "suggests", indicates that you know that it doesn't provide definitive proof.
  • Extensive relevant personal experience might also play a part in describing what motivated you to do your research or pursue a certain line of research. But to be "convincing", you would need to describe the nature of your experience to the reader and you would be expected to find if some existing research has also noted your observations.