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Should You Write in the First or Third Person?
by Deanna Mascle
Traditionally, English grammar has divided references to people into three categories, to refer to I, you, and he or she. The first person is I, me, my, we, our, and so on. The second person is you and your. The third person is he, she, they, their, his, hers, him, her, and so on.
However, most writing tasks are written in either first or third person. Instructional and how-to type writing can be written in second person and some fiction -- although rarely.
How does a writer decide which person is right for their writing task?
For many writers, the first and only criteria used is comfort and experience. As most of our oral communication takes place in the first person and much informal written communication is in first person, many people are just more comfortable writing in first person.
However that doesn't mean that first person is the ideal choice for that particular writing task.
First person is a great choice when you intend to write informally or casually. Even if the task itself is actually for a formal or professional purpose, you may deliberately choose a casual tone. Then first person is the right choice.
First person is also a wonderful choice when writing about personal experience. If you are sharing a story about your life or an event that you witnessed then many times it is more powerful written in first person. The writer is a part of the story and it is important for the reader to know that so first person is the right choice here as well.
There are many times, though, when third person really is the better choice. In fact, many academic and professional situations require it as first person is more casual and informal.
The biggest reason to move from first to third person is simply that third person takes the writer (the "I") out of the writing which places the emphasis on what is being said rather than who is saying it.
It creates a sense of more objectivity and distance—the writer’s feelings and personality are peripheral to an argument’s validity—the facts are allowed to speak for themselves.
Writing in third person is also stronger and more forceful therefore is often more convincing. Often the “I” statement weakens an argument or statement.
Often first person is unnecessary ie. I think [most students do not need algebra]. Many of the first-person elements (I think, I believe,I know, etc.) often simply weaken or bog down the writing for no purpose. Taking those out to make the switch to third person can make the writing stronger and more powerful.
If you want to learn and grow as a writer then you must experiment and gain experience using both first and third person. That way you will make the choice based on the purpose of your writing not simply your comfort level.
About the Author: Deanna Mascle is the publisher of http://wordcraftonline.com. You can read more at http://word-craft.info.