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First, Second and Third Person

In English, there are three points of view from which a piece can be written. Two of these points of view, known as first and third person, are considered to be preferable to the second person. However, each point of view can occasionally be of help to a writer as long as it is used properly and consistently.

The First Person

The first person uses terms such as “I,” “me,” “mine,” “we,” “myself” or “ourselves.” This point of view may be useful for a piece that is focused on relating a particular experience, such as a journey:

  1. I graduated at the top of my class and received an all-expenses-paid trip to Egypt as a reward.

  2. We wrote this paper together.

The first person is not advised for pieces that are of an instructional or informative nature. While it may be easier to write from a first person perspective initially, the first person can make it difficult to succinctly describe a process or undertaking.

The Second Person

The second person point of view is expressed using “you” or “your.” This is not considered to be a proper point of view. However, even in proper English the second person or “understood you” is occasionally used in a sentence, such as:

Slow down the car.

In this sentence, the person being addressed is “understood” to be you, even though it is not written down. A way to determine if a sentence is using this type of indirect object is to insert “you” in front of the sentence. To return to the example above, we can see that the sentence is addressing you:

(You) Slow down the car.
(You) Place the beaker in the oven.

A more blatant form of the second person, in which “you” is constantly used as a subject, is usually employed as a literary device. In technical pieces, sentences such as “You may read the manual, but find the steps to be confusing” can be used in the text to help illustrate a point. However, writers should generally avoid these types of constructions.

The Third Person

The third person consists of terms such as "it," “he,” “she,” “they” or “them.” Occasionally, “we” can be used in the third person, although technically it is a first person plural.

Third person is the preferred point of view for the vast majority of informative or instructional texts. This is partially because it is clean and direct. Writing in the third person helps writers focus on what they are trying to say and not necessarily what they may be feeling or thinking. Here is an earlier example sentence rendered in the third person:

  1. He graduated at the top of his class and received an all-expenses-paid trip to Egypt as a reward.
  • Consistency Above All
  • Regardless of what point of view the writer chooses, he must adhere to that form. A piece that switches back and forth between points of view is confusing and will signal to the reader that they are dealing with an amateur.

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