In the past, you might have had problems getting that polished, professional feel to your essays, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. Are your ideas too underdeveloped? Is your thesis statement not good enough? Do you not have enough support for your arguments?
Sometimes the problem with your essay is simply the point of view you choose to write in. Using third-person writing can make a world of difference in giving your essay the right tone.
Three Different Points of View
If you’re not sure what the different points of view are, I’ll give you a run-down and some examples to help you see more clearly. And for an added bonus, I’ll give you a couple clips from the king of narration himself, Morgan Freeman.
When you write in first person, you use I and me. Think of yourself as the “first person”–any pronoun that indicates something you do or think is going to be first person. You see this a lot when you’re reading books from the main character’s perspective.
Typically, however, first-person writing is not very effective in writing essays. (We’ll get to why that is in a second.)
Example: I believe that third-person writing is the best point of view when writing an essay.
First-person writing or narration also uses us and we, as you’ll see in this example:
Second-person point of view uses the pronoun you. Second-person writing is the equivalent to a choose-your-own-adventure novel or a self-help book. It speaks directly to the audience.
However, the conversational tone of writing in second-person is not usually ideal for academic writing.
Example: You would do better on your essays if you wrote in third person.
It is important to note that when you aren’t writing strictly in third person, the point of view can shift from sentence to sentence.
In the next example, you’ll notice that both first-person and second-person points of view are present. The lyrics Freeman reads shift between using “you/your” and first-person singular pronouns throughout the clip.
Third-person writing uses the pronouns they, him, her, and it, as well as proper nouns. This is the type of writing you would see in a novel with an outside narrator.
Example: Teachers and students agree that third-person writing makes essays sound better.
Here’s one last video example, this one using third-person perspective, from the man with the golden voice:
Why Third-Person Writing is Important
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Essay Sound More Assertive.
If you write your essay in first person, you risk the chance of statements like “I think” or “I believe.” These kinds of statements sound more passive than just stating your facts. Notice the difference between the following sentences:
This is why I believe jazz is the first form of truly American music.
This is why jazz is the first form of truly American music.
The second sentence–the one that uses third-person–sets a more definite tone. You are presenting the sentence as a statement of fact instead of a personal belief.
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Support Sound More Credible.
On a related note, first-person writing makes your support sound like it’s coming from a non-credible source. Presenting facts or opinions with “I think” or “I believe” in front doesn’t give any validity to the statement.
Third-person writing encourages you to use other sources to validate your claims. The following two sentences will illustrate this further:
I believe that children should consume less sugar because it leads to higher risk of obesity.
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, children who consume a lot of sugar have an increased risk of obesity.
The second sentence pulls an authoritative source to support the claim instead of you, the writer. This makes the claim more credible to the reader.
Third-Person Writing Sounds Less Conversational and More Professional.
As I mentioned before, writing in the first or second person leads to a more conversational tone. While this may be good for some forms of writing (this blog post, for example), you want your academic writing to take on a more formal tone. Consider the following examples:
When writing a novel, you should think about what kind of tone you want to portray before choosing which point of view you want to use.
When writing a novel, authors should think about the kind of tone they want to portray before choosing which point of view they want to use.
The first sentence creates a more intimate and conversational tone with the reader, but the second sentence tells the reader what kind of person (authors) would benefit from reading the sentence.
It is more specific and, therefore, creates a more formal tone.
Exceptions to the Third-Person Writing Rule
I won’t ever tell you that it’s always a good idea to write one specific way. Third-person writing is usually a good idea in academic writing, but there are cases where first-person writing is a better call.
When You’re Writing A Personal Narrative.
Personal narrative essays are designed to tell the reader something that has happened in your life, so first-person writing would be the preferred choice here. Whether it be something that embarrassed you, angered you, or made you proud or happy, narrative essays are all about real-world life experiences.
When You’re Talking About Your Own Opinions.
Like narrative essays, using your own opinions in essays may sometimes require the use of the first person, especially if you are drawing on personal experiences. Usually, this will happen in persuasive essays.
It is important to note that you should still try to use third-person writing for your persuasive essays because, as I mentioned earlier, it will give a more formal tone and more credibility to your argument. However, if some personal experience is especially relevant, it would be okay to use the first person (unless your teacher says otherwise, of course).
When You’re Doing Other Informal Types of Writing.
Essays are not the only types of writing assignments you’re likely to receive. Short stories and poetry pop up in classes from time to time, and these can be written any number of ways. Short stories can take the first- or third-person perspective–they rarely use second person. Poetry can use any of the three points of view.
(For more, read When to Use First-Person Writing in Your Essays)
When you are concentrating strictly on academic essays, third-person writing is (usually) crucial. And it’s not hard to do. Just look at any references to yourself or the reader and change around the sentence to eliminate the I, me, you, we, and us pronouns. Doing so will make your writing stronger, clearer, and more professional.
If you still can’t quite get the hang of third-person writing, there’s no need to stress out over it. Just send your essay to one of the Kibin editors to help you out.
Now… go try your hand at third-person writing!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
“He has a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘They hold those truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
“He considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And he might have been given a bad break, but he’s got an awful lot to live for.”
“They shall go on to the end; they shall fight in France; they shall fight on the seas and oceans; they shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; they shall defend their island, whatever the cost may be … they shall never surrender.”
Something not quite right about the foregoing quotations, isn’t there?
Great speeches are great not just because of their soaring rhetoric, their stirring ideals, and their inspirational calls to action. As these badly re-engineered quotations demonstrate, they’re great because they’re delivered in the first person. The speaker puts himself directly into his speech, puts his vision and commitment and personal sacrifice right there on the line. I have a dream.I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. We shall never surrender.
When I (or we) communicate a fact or idea in the first person singular (or plural), my presence and responsibility and dedication are clear, and they resonate with readers and listeners. When people communicate a fact or idea in the third person, however, that responsibility is sidestepped, that dedication is compromised, and that presence is removed several steps away. (Notice how the passive voice automatically shows up in the third person?) And when you talk about yourself in the third person, you not only put a damaging amount of distance between you and who you say you are, you also suggest that you’re at best a little pompous and at worst a touch delusional.
And yet lawyers constantly talk about themselves in the third person in their own biographies, on their own web pages. It’s an affectation and a distraction. “Jane is a partner in the firm’s Litigation Department who specializes in class action defence. She is often retained by Fortune 500 companies. Her hobbies include hiking and travel.” Who is supposed to be speaking here? Is this a toast given at a wedding reception? Is the reader to assume this biography has been written by an admiring third party, without the lawyer’s input but with her graceful acquiescence?
When you describe your practice, skills and experiences in the third person, you might think you’re being appropriately modest or professionally circumspect. In reality, you’re putting unnecessary distance between yourself and your own best qualities. Law is a relationship business, and the best relationships are made directly, between two people who are open and honest with each other. Third-person biographies insert an imaginary third person into that relationship, complicating things and creating a sense of detachment or distance on the lawyer’s part.
Good lawyers don’t do this when they practice their craft. The most effective advocates don’t tell the court, “It is my client’s position that…” They say to the court, “Webelieve that…” It’s a subtle change, but a powerful one, communicating ownership and commitment and alignment with the client. There’s every reason to apply the same approach to our website biographies.
Consider these two bios:
- “Gary is a partner with Parable & Metaphor LLP. He focuses his practice on business law, serving clients in the manufacturing and recycling sectors in areas such as environmental compliance and new product development. An avid golfer, he enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.”
- “I’ve been a partner with Parable & Metaphor LLP for six years. I help clients in the manufacturing and recycling sectors with a wide range of business law matters. I make sure they comply with environmental regulations and help them develop new products for their markets. I love to play golf, ideally while travelling across the country with my wife and three kids.”
The information is pretty much the same in both, but the personal touch of the second one encourages the provision of more detail and invites a level of openness and engagement with the reader (and notice that saying “I” allows you to connect more easily and effectively with the work you do for the clients you serve.) By contrast, the first one reads like a cookie-cutter description of Any Lawyer Esq., or maybe a testimonial elicited under some level of duress. There’s a stiffness and distance about third-person biographies that’s unconsciously off-putting to the reader or listener, and it’s completely unnecessary.
Own the details of your life and career with pride and enthusiasm. Show your willingness to commit to a relationship with your biography’s reader. Stop pretending that some invisible authority has independently studied and described you, like an anthropologist drily detailing a new species. Stand up, speak out, and be yourself. Clients want to know who you are and whether they’ll like working with you. Tell them the first, so that they can start to decide the second.