Why Third-Person Writing Is Critical to a Great Essay
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:
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:
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:
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 .
About the Author
Eden Meirow is a full-time copywriter and part-time freelance writer. Along with her BS in marketing from Florida State University and MA in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University, she has spent the past 7 years learning how best to reach and teach people using the power of words. When she's not working, she's constantly trying to expand her creativity through music, writing, art, and animation.
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An Instruction to How to Write in Third Person
How to write in third person without mistakes.
Writing in the third person is writing using the third person point of view. This involves using pronoun such as him, her, it or them. This is quite different from the first-person point of view which predominantly uses pronouns such as I and me and the second person point of view in which the main pronouns used are you and yours.
The beauty of writing in the third person is that it gives your work an element of objectivity and flexibility. When it comes to fiction works, writing in the third person portrays the narrator as a person who knows it all. Some of the pronouns that are usually adopted in writing in the third person include:
He, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs
Maybe the following list of the best writing services helps you with this issue:
When to write in third-person?
There are some instances when you are required to write in the third person. These include:
- Academic Writing
- Creative Writing
- Third person omniscient
- Third person objective
- Third person limited
Let’s look at all these instances in depth:
The following are the guidelines you need to follow when writing in the third person academically.
- All your academic writing should be in the third person
If you are working on anything formal such as argumentative papers or a research essays , then you must use third person pronoun. This is because it gives your work a picture of objectivity rather than personal thoughts. This aspect of objectivity will make your work look more credible and less biased.
The third person will allow you to focus your work on available facts rather than your thoughts.
Read also: Where to pay someone to do your research paper at affordable prices?
- Ensure that you adopt the right pronouns
The basics definition of the third person is someone on the outside looking in. Therefore, in writing, you either address them by name or use the appropriate third person pronoun. As stated above, some of the third person pronouns are:
He, she, his, her, him, her, it, himself, herself, itself, they, them, their, themselves
- Don’t use first person pronouns
In academic writing, you should never include the first-person pronoun. This is because it will make you work stand from your perspective. In essence, your work will look more personal or of your opinion.
Some of the first-person pronouns are:
I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours
The problem with the first-person pronoun is their subjective nature which makes it hard to convince your readers that your work is based on facts as it will look like your personal opinions.
- Do away with second person pronouns
This is a point of view that addresses the readers directly. The problem with this point of view is that it makes you look as if you are very familiar with the readers.
These pronouns include:
You, your, yours, yourself
The issue with this point of view is that it makes your work looks like it is accusing the reader.
If you don’t understand these facts, you are not a scholar
This should be written as:
Someone who doesn’t understand these facts is not a scholar.
- Use general terms to refer to your subject
Sometimes, there is always a need that arises in your writing to talk about someone. In this case, you might be tempted to fall back and use the second person pronoun which is very wrong for academic writing. This is the point where you need to adopt the use of an indefinite third person pronoun.
Some of the common indefinite third person pronouns used in academic writing include:
Individuals, people, students, a child, a man, a woman, experts, the reader…
Regardless of the challenges, the researcher managed to gather the following
Other indefinite third person pronouns are:
One, anyone, someone any, either, each,
- Take care of singular and plural pronouns
One challenge that writers face in academic writing is to maintain the trend of the pronouns they choose to use. If you decide that your subject is based on a singular pronoun then you need to ensure that you flow with it to the conclusion of your paper, don’t mix them up.
This usually arises when the writer tries to avoid being gender specific either when using “him and her.” Usually, one is tempted to simply use “They.”
- Creative Writing
In creative writing, there are different forms of the third person pronoun. As mentioned earlier we have:
Let’s look at each of them individually.
Third Person Omniscient
The following are some of the things you need to adhere to when writing in the third person omniscient.
- Ensure that you don’t stick to only a single character
Usually, in creative writing many characters are involved, therefore following the third person omniscient you need to shift your focus to different characters rather than maintaining the actions, words, perspective or thoughts of only one character. The narrator knows it all and can decide to give or hold any actions, feelings or thoughts of a particular character.
For example, your story may involve four main characters, you, therefore, need to portray the actions, thoughts, and feelings of all this at one point. This can be done in a single paragraph in your story.
- Take charge of your narration
When writing using the third person omniscient point of view, you are free to give any information that you desire. This point of view allows you not only to give the feelings and inner thoughts of the characters but also it allows you to unmask some of the events that will happen later on in the story.
You are allowed to include a moral perspective, hold any opinion or talk about nature when you are not talking about your characters.
This is to say that, when writing in the third person omniscient, you take full control of the narration and decide what to include or not. Different from any other point of view, third person omniscient allows you to talk about the inner thoughts of your characters.
You should be in a position to know when not to give some information. Even though you can give any information, it is sometimes good to leave others so that you talk about them in a gradual manner.
- Do away with first and second person pronoun
In your narration, don’t use the first or second person pronoun. You are only allowed to adopt these points of view when dealing with active dialogue.
Third Person Limited
How to perfect your third person writing?
When writing in third person limited, these are some of the things that you need to follow.
- Focus on a single character
Unlike the third person omniscient, writing in third person limited perspective allows you to only talk about the actions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs of only one character. In this perspective, you can decide to be more objective or write in a manner that portrays the thinking and reaction of the character.
This perspective does not give you the chance to talk about any other character, and therefore the actions and thoughts are unknown to you. This perspective does not allow the shifting from one character to another.
Third person limited is different from the first person in that there is a thin line separating the protagonist and the narrator. This gives you the chance to give information about the character that you wouldn’t otherwise tell if you were the narrating in first person.
- Talk about the other characters from the sideline
In as much as your focus should be on a single character, you still need to talk about the other characters. But in this case, you are going to treat them as a different entity.
You need to keep in mind this should not make you use the first or second person pronoun. All your work should be in the third person unless when highlighting an active dialogue.
Ideally, this means that you as the writer have complete knowledge about the main character, but you should avoid making your character the narrator.
Do not write:
I felt bad arguing with my mother
Mary felt bad arguing with her mother.
- Deal with the words and actions of other characters
In this point of view , you are only allowed to talk about the thoughts and feelings of your main character. While talking about the other characters, you should only focus on their words and actions, and this should not go to their thoughts and feelings. In other words, the mention of other characters should occur without the knowledge of the protagonist. What this means is that, whatever the narrator can do, the protagonist can also perform only that the narrator cannot get into the minds of other characters.
You can only give guesses of insights about the other characters, but these should be based on the main character’s perspective.
Do not write
Mary felt bad. She didn’t know that her mother was terrified
Mary felt bad, but looking at the expression on her mother’s face, she noticed that she was also terrified.
- Keep information that is not familiar to your main character
In as much as your narrator is allowed to talk about the words and actions of the other characters, the narrator is limited to talk about things that the main character can understand.
This is to say that, you can only highlight the actions of the other characters when your main character is present or in the midst of these actions.
Third Person Objective
How to use third person point of view
These are some of the guidelines you need to follow when using the third person objective point of view.
- Switch to different characters
If you are want to write using the third person objective, note that you are allowed to mention the words and actions of the character of your choice at any point in your story. You don’t have to focus on a single character. You can talk about different characters and switch them whenever you want to.
In all this, you have to maintain the third person pronoun and avoid the first or second pronoun at all cost. However, you can use them only when highlighting a dialogue.
- Avoid being direct
When dealing with the third person objective point of view, you are not in a position to tell exactly what is happening in the heads of your characters.
In this case, you have to look at yourself as an outsider watching the actions of your characters and they engage each other in the story. You are not omniscient hence you are not able to get to know the feelings and inner thoughts of all your characters. However, you are only able to access the actions of each character.
- Use descriptions
You should note that you are not in a position to talk about the inner thoughts of your characters. However, you are in a position to observe them and tell what they are feeling or going through. This can, therefore, give you insights into their thoughts. What you need to do now is describing what you have observed from the character. Instead of being direct and telling your readers that the character is angry, describe the character’s body language, the facial expression, the tone, so that the reader will picture that he/she is angry.
- Forget about your thoughts
When using the third person objective point of view, you assume the role of a reporter rather than a commentator. In this case, you should allow your readers to derive their inferences. You should do this by presenting the actions of your characters without attaching any analysis or explanation. In other words, you should not provide insights on how the readers should view these actions. From this article you are set to handle third person narration without any more difficulty.
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Point of View in Academic Writing
Point of view is the perspective from which an essay is written. The following chart lists both the personal pronouns and their possessive forms used with these points of view:
When choosing appropriate point of view for academic or formal writing, consider the type and purpose of the assignment.
First-person point of view is used to write stories/narratives or examples about personal experiences from your own life. Note the following paragraph:
Several people have made a lasting impression on me . I remember one person in particular who was significant to me . Dr. Smith, my high school English teacher, helped my family and me through a difficult time during my junior year. We appreciated her care, kindness, and financial help after the loss of our home in a devastating fire.
Note : Academic writing often requires us to avoid first-person point of view in favor of third-person point of view, which can be more objective and convincing. Often, students will say, “ I think the author is very convincing.” Taking out I makes a stronger statement or claim: “The author is very convincing.”
Second-person point of view, which directly addresses the reader, works well for giving advice or explaining how to do something. A process analysis paper would be a good choice for using the second-person point of view, as shown in this paragraph:
In order to prepare microwave popcorn, you will need a microwave and a box of microwave popcorn which you’ve purchased at a grocery store. First of all, you need to remove the popcorn package from the box and take off the plastic wrap. Next, open your microwave and place the package in the center with the proper side up. Then set your microwave for the suggested number of minutes as stated on the box. Finally, when the popcorn is popped, you’re ready for a great treat.
Note : Academic writing generally avoids second-person point of view in favor of third-person point of view. Second person can be too casual for formal writing, and it can also alienate the reader if the reader does not identify with the idea.
In academic writing, sometimes "you" needs to be replaced with nouns or proper nouns to create more formality or to clarify the idea. Here are some examples:
Third-person point of view identifies people by proper noun (a given name such as Shema Ahemed) or noun (such as teachers, students, players, or doctors ) and uses the pronouns they, she, and he . Third person also includes the use of one, everyone, and anyone. Most formal, academic writing uses the third person. Note the use of various third-person nouns and pronouns in the following:
The bosses at the company have decided that employees need a day of in-house training. Times have been scheduled for everyone . Several senior employees will be required to make five-minute presentations. One is not eager to speak in front of others since he’s very shy. Another one , however, is anxious to relate their expertise. The variation in routine should provide an interesting day for all people concerned.
Third Person Pronouns: Gender-Fair Use of Language and Singular “They”
In the past, if you wanted to refer to one unnamed person, you used the masculine pronoun: If a person is strong, he will stand up for himself . Today, you should avoid the automatic use of the masculine pronoun because it is considered sexist language.
Also avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes by assigning a particular gendered pronoun: A doctor should listen to his patients. A nurse should listen to her patients . These examples make assumptions that doctors are men and nurses are women, which is a sexist stereotype.
Instead, use the pronouns they or them to refer to a person whose gender is undisclosed or irrelevant to the context of the usage: If a person is strong, they will stand up for themselves when they believe in something.
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- Citation Styles
How to write in third-person
Although there are three narratives you can use in any form of writing when it comes to your papers and anything academic you produce, it’s best to choose the third-person. It’s pretty simple with a bit of practice, but if you’re completely new to this writing style, here’s what you need to know about how to write in third-person.
What does writing in third-person mean?
Writing in third-person is one of the three styles you can use when describing a point of view. Even though you might not know it, chances are you’ve used first, second and third person in writing projects throughout your education.
It’s a narrative where you’re totally independent of the subject you’re analyzing and writing about. You don’t take sides. You don’t try to influence what readers feel. It’s a completely unbiased, objective way of writing that tells a story or dissects a topic right down the middle.
There’s a lot of information out there about how you can differentiate between the three in roundabout ways, making it unnecessarily complicated. Here’s a quick breakdown to understand the differences for when you write your following paper:
This is from the I/we perspective. It’s where we talk about us , ourselves, and our opinions. If we go down the first-person route, writing will include pronouns like I , me , myself, and mine .
This point of view belongs to the person you’re addressing — so its a you perspective. In your writing, you’d use second-person pronouns such as you , your, and yourselves .
The third-person point of view is aimed at the person or people being talked about, which is the type of writing you’d find in stories. In this perspective, you’d use pronouns like he , she , him , her , his , hers , himself , herself , it , them , their, and themselves . Or, you’d use a name. But that tends to happen more in stories than research papers.
Notice the difference between the three?
When to write in third-person
The third-person point of view tells the reader a story and it’s often the go-to when you’re taking an authoritative stance in your papers, which is why it’s so common in academic writing.
So, always choose the third-person stance when writing academic copy, such as essays and research papers.
The reason for this is it’ll make your papers less personal and more objective, meaning the objectivity will make you come across as more credible and less biased. Ultimately, this will help your grades as the third-person view keeps you focused on evidence and facts instead of your opinion.
You can break third-person perspectives into three other types, including omniscient, limited, and objective. Although they’re more associated with creative writing than academic work and essays, your writing is likely to fall under the third-person objective point of view.
A third-person objective point of view is about being neutral and presenting your findings and research in an observational way, rather than influencing the reader with your opinions.
How to use the third-person point of view
Rule number one: Never refer to yourself in your essay in the third-person. That’s a no-no.
For instance, here’s how you shouldn’t write a sentence in your essay if you’re writing about virtual learning as an example.
“I feel like students perform better at home because they have more freedom and are more comfortable.”
It’s a simple sentence, but there’s a lot wrong with it when you’re talking about research papers and adopting a third-person narrative. Why? Because you’re using first-person pronouns and, as it sounds like an opinion, you can’t back up your claims with a stat or any credible research. There’s no substance to it whatsoever.
Also, it isn’t very assertive. The person marking your work won’t be impressed by “I feel like,” because it shows no authority and highlights that it came from your brain and not anywhere of note.
By including terms like “I think” or “I feel” like in the example above, you’re already off to a bad start.
But when you switch that example to the third-person point of view, you can cite your sources , which is precisely what you need to do in your essays and research papers to achieve higher grades.
Let’s switch that sentence up and expand it using the third-person point of view:
“A psychological study from Karrie Goodwin shows that students thrive in virtual classrooms as it offers flexibility. They can make their own hours and take regular breaks. Another study from high school teacher, Ashlee Trip, highlighted that children enjoy freedom, the ability to work at their own pace and decide what their day will look like.”
With a third-person narrative, you can present evidence to the reader and back up the claims you make. So, it not only shows what you know, but it also shows you took the time to research and strengthen your paper with credible resources and facts — not just opinions.
6 tips for writing in third-person
1. understand your voice won’t always shine in your essays.
Every single piece of writing tends to have a voice or point of view as if you’re speaking to the reader directly. However, that can’t always happen in academic writing as it’s objective compared to a novel, for example. Don’t try to ‘fluff’ up your piece to try and cram your personality in, as your academic work doesn’t need it.
2. Don’t focus on yourself or the reader — focus on the text
An academic piece of work always has a formal tone as it’s objective. When you write your next paper, focus on the writing itself rather than the writer or the reader.
3. Coach yourself out of using first-person pronouns
This is easier said than done if all you’ve ever done is first- or second-person writing. When you write your next paper, scan through it to see if you’ve written anything in first-person and replace it with the third-person narrative.
Here are a few regular offenders that pop up in academic papers — along with how you can switch the statements to third-person:
- I argue should be this essay argues
- I found that should be it was found that
- We researched should be the group researched
- I will also analyze should be topic X will also be analyzed
The same applies to second-person, as there are plenty of cases where it tends to slip through in academic writing. Again, it’s pretty straightforward to switch the more you practice. For instance:
- Your paper will be marked higher if you use a citation tool should be the use of a citation tool will improve one’s grades
4. Be as specific as possible
This is where things can get a little bit confusing. Writing in third-person is all about including pronouns like he, she, it, and they. However, using them towards the beginning of sentences can be pretty vague and might even confuse the reader — this is the last thing you want from your essay or paper.
Instead, try using nouns towards the beginning of sentences. For example, use the actual subject, such as the interviewer or the writer, rather than he, she, or they when you begin the sentence.
The same applies to terms like it. Start the sentence with the ‘it’ is that you’re describing. If it’s a citation tool, begin the sentence by referencing what you’re discussing, so you aren’t vague. Clarity is key.
5. Write in the present tense when using third-person
In any form of academic writing, you need to write your reports, essays, and research papers in the present tense, especially when introducing different subjects or findings.
So, rather than saying “This paper analyzed” (which does seem correct as technically that part was in the past and the writing is in the present), you should write “This report analyzes” — as if you’re analyzing right here and now.
However, the difference is when you highlight how you did the research, that should be in the past tense. This means you’d use third-person phrases like “The equipment that was used” or “The results were analyzed by”, for instance.
6. Avoid adding your own thoughts
If your report is on a subject that’s close to your heart, it can be super tempting to sprinkle in your own thoughts. It’s a challenge, but you need to coach yourself out of it.
In academic writing, you aren’t a commentator. You’re a reporter. You need to let readers draw their conclusions without over-analyzing them or making the reader lean one way or another.
The easiest way to get to grips with writing your academic papers in the third-person is to be consistent and practice often. Criticize your work and analyze it until it becomes the norm. Yes, it can be a little complex in the early days, but before you know it, you’d have mastered the technique, helping you take your papers and reports up a level.
Frequently Asked Questions about writing in third-person
In third-person, you’d use pronouns like he , she , him , her , his , hers , himself , herself , it , them , their, and themselves . Or, you’d use a name.
You is used in second person and is therefore not used in third person. The second person is used for the person that is being addressed.
The third-person point of view is aimed at the person or people being talked about, which is the type of writing you’d find in stories. When writing in third-person view, make sure to write in the present tense and avoid adding your own thoughts.
When writing in third person, you should actually always write in the present tense since you are mostly presenting results in this view.
The second person point of view belongs to the person you’re addressing — so its a you perspective. In your writing, you’d use second-person pronouns such as you , your, and yourselves .
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First person vs third person: when to use which?
A question I often get about writing is whether it is ever ‘okay to write in first person’.
My answer to this is almost always – ‘it depends’:
It depends on the type of writing we’re talking about; whether you’re writing a personal essay, an argumentative essay, an expository essay, a literary commentary, a speech, a letter, a corporate communications document, or fiction (for this, using first or third person is entirely a personal decision).
It depends on the tone that you wish to convey; it depends on the audience that you intend to address; it depends, also, on the frequency with which you use it in a given piece of writing.
But first, let’s get our definitions in order –
First-person narrative: The use of the pronoun ‘I’ (singular) or ‘we’ (collective) to communicate or narrate from a subjective point of view. Second-person narrative: The use of the pronoun ‘you’ (singular or collective) to communicate or narrate in a way that directly addresses the reader Third-person narrative: The use of pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ (singular), ‘they’ (collective) to communicate or narrate from an external point of view
One interesting point to note is that first person is not always necessary for writing to come across as authentic or individual. An essay narrated in third person primarily focused on describing external elements such as the environment and material objects could very well convey deep, personal emotions; it is your craft, not the pronoun, that determines the depth of expression. An excellent example is Virginia Woolf’s description of London in Mrs Dalloway :
“In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motorcars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.”
As a general rule of thumb, using first person as the predominant voice of your writing is going to make you sound less formal than if you were to use third person, which tends to come across more objective in tone.
Between “I think studying English is a waste of time” and “Studying English is a waste of time”, which one sounds more authoritative to you?
The former tells us that one person thinks studying English is a waste of time, but the latter makes the statement as if it were a general, accepted truth. Note that I say “as if”, because the statement itself is not, in fact, a general truth, but is only conveyed to sound that way through my deliberate omission of the first-person pronoun ‘I’.
So for types of writing that require a high degree of subjective opinion (e.g. anecdotal accounts, op-eds, public speeches, or indeed, blog posts), using first person would make sense.
On the other hand, for essays that are more concerned with relaying facts (or projecting the impression of doing so!) or opinions external to oneself – which don’t have to be ‘factual’ (e.g. argumentative essay, expository essay, news report, scientific article), then perhaps it would be better to opt for the third-person voice.
The use of first vs third person in literary analysis
In this post, let’s look at the use of first-person voice in a specific type of writing: the literary analysis essay. If you’re an English literature student, this should be no stranger to you. For others, think of this as the kind of writing one would find in literary criticism.
Unlike the argumentative essay or the personal essay, the literary analysis essay defies categorical lines when it comes to narrative voice. This is because, despite the clear subjectivity in a kind of writing that is, in essence, a personal response to a literary work, this ‘personal response’ nonetheless seeks to persuade and establish authority in the vessel of a ‘literary analysis’, specifically by formulating an argument based on ‘objective’ observations (i.e. ‘objective’ because you’re partly describing what’s written in a poem / a novel).
What does this mean, then?
Well, it tells us that while literary analysis is largely subjective in content, it often tries to be objective in tone. Commenting on literature isn’t quite the same as a casual book club conversation; it’s an exercise in rhetorical and aesthetic persuasion, for which you make a case about a specific interpretation of a text and convince your readers to see the logic behind it.
Of course, that’s not to say they necessarily have to agree with you (in fact it’s often better that they don’t), but unless you’re already an eminent literary scholar like Stephen Greenblatt or Christopher Ricks , then it’s probably best that you write your literary analysis more like a well thought-out argument, rather than a personal reflection.
In other words, use third-person where possible in your English essays, and feature the ‘I’ pronoun sparingly – if at all. There’s also a debate about whether using the first-person collective ‘we’ is acceptable (e.g. “We can infer from Macbeth’s speech that Shakespeare was wary of power’s effects on man.”) Some people think it’s presumptuous – and therefore dangerously collectivising; I actually think it’s marginally better than using ‘I’, but still less preferable to the trusty third-person voice (e.g. “Macbeth’s speech suggests that Shakespeare was wary of power’s effects on man.”)
I mentioned the English literary critic and professor Christopher Ricks, who has been called “the greatest living critic today” by even his most esteemed contemporaries. There’s no better way to learn than to learn from the best, so let’s examine how Ricks writes in a manner that doesn’t compromise the singularity of his views, but still manages to convey objective restraint in thought.
Christopher Ricks on Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ (from Tennyson )
Best known for his gothic, sentimental poetry, Alfred Lord Tennyson remains one of the most widely read Victorian poets today. His narrative poem, Maud: A Monodrama , tells of the tragic love between the eponymous character and the poem’s speaker. Our focus today is on the analysis, not the poem itself, so I’ll link to the poem here – if you’re interested in Victorian poetry or want to find a poem to practise your close reading skills on, I’d recommend that you give this a read.
Ricks, in his seminal study on Tennyson, demonstrates real elegance in his commentary on ‘Maud’, an excerpt of which I’ll reproduce below for your reference (and for some, enjoyment):
[Maud] is a poem about losing someone whom you have never really had. She is at first beautiful, but as a gem, as an epitome of womankind, as a phantasmal pulse, a dreamlike vision: Cold and clear-cut face, why come you so cruelly meek, Breaking a slumber in which all spleenful folly was drown’d, Pale with the golden beam of an eyelash dead on the cheek, Passionless, pale, cold face, star-sweet on a gloom profound; Womanlike, taking revenge too deep for a transient wrong Done but in thought to your beauty, and ever as pale as before Growing and fading and growing upon me without a sound, Luminous, gemlike, ghostlike, deathlike, half the night long Growing and fading and growing, till I could bear it no more, Among the things which [the speaker] cannot bear about Maud is the dread of her as a unique person; part of him wants her to be a snobbish puppet, part of him tries to divide her as he himself feels divided – and adore, Not her, who is neither courtly nor kind, Not her, not her, but a voice. His love never becomes perfect, so it never altogether casts out fear; but it replaces fear and masochism by awe: “And dream of her beauty with tender dread…” – tender, both as sympathetically moved and as touchingly bruisable. Tender dread is never in Maud to be succeeded by the sober certainty of waking bliss; but it is a human advance. For Maud is an unprecedented evocation of a deep fear of love. “And most of all would I flee from the cruel madness of love”: Maud is not a poem which uses the word ‘madness’ lightly; the essential madness is the fear of love, and the hero is thinking not of traditional cheerful pangs, but of the worst psychic cowardice and dismay. What he centrally fears is not that he cannot be loved but that he cannot love. Till a morbid hate and horror have grown Of a world in which I have hardly mixt, And a morbid eating lichen fixt On a heart half-turn’d to stone. ‘Hardly’ has a sardonic hardness. “Oh heart of stone, are you flesh, and caught/By that you swore to withstand?” Stone, but without the elegant fiction of statuary, which creates a flickering pun in “Wept over her” in these lines: She came to the village church, And sat by a pillar alone; An angel watching an urn Wept over her, carved in stone; So that it is not merely a social snub but an emasculating humiliation which is enforced by the threatening insouciance of Maud’s brother: But while I past he was humming an air, Stopt, and then with a riding whip Leisurely tapping a glossy boot, And curving a contumelious lip, Gorgonised me from head to foot With a stony British stare. The hideousness of the later debacle is that it forces the hero back into thinking he cannot love: “Courage, poor heart of stone!” he groans, “Courage, poor stupid heart of stone”. […]
While Ricks the person is never too close for comfort to the poem’s distraught speaker, Ricks the critic shows a level of microscopic sensitivity to the poet’s diction and a degree of fraternal empathy in his judicious, but not altogether detached, observation of the speaker’s conflicted emotions.
Notice as well that he’s able to convey his emotional response to Tennyson’s work without once having to summon the ‘I’ pronoun, or be jarringly explicit about his presence on the poem’s sidelines.
As an insightful observer of a poetic work, Ricks engages analytically through appreciation and personally through respect, most evidently shown by the constant ‘touchstones’ of quoted lines he uses to guide his commentary. He makes it clear that the critic’s opinion does not override the poet’s narrative.
This, surely, is no mere ‘analysis’, but intellectual pleasure in hermeneutic action.
From reading Ricks’ writing, then, it should become clear that using third-person is a good idea when writing English essays, as it enables you to write in a more sophisticated, considered manner, all the while expressing your unique views towards a text.
A final, but important note
As a final – and important – note, there’s another point to my meta-criticism of Ricks’ reading on Tennyson: reading literary criticism – good literary criticism – is absolutely necessary if you want to get better at writing literary analysis, or at English Literature in general.
While reading primary works (i.e. fiction and poetry) should always be the foundation of literary learning, it is equally important that we grant secondary work (i.e. literary criticism) the attention it deserves, because the act of interpreting literature is an art in itself.
Mind you, I’m not telling you to consciously mimic the way these critics write; my point is just that the more we read what they say and appreciate the way in which they say it, the more our writing style will take on the intellectual rigour and stylistic sophistication so evident in the prose of people like Ricks.
Do you use the first-person ‘I’ a lot in your writing? Or are you more partial to third-person? Comment below with your views!
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Writing in the Third Person
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All pieces of writing have a “voice” or point of view, as if someone is talking to the reader. The words “I“, “me“, “my“, “we“, and “our“ are written in the first person. The writer is the subject of the writing. In contrast, the words “you” and “your” are in the second person. The reader is the subject of the writing. Finally, the words “she”, “he”, “it”, and “they” is in the third person in that someone else is being spoken about. In academic writing, you should generally use the third person.
Academic Writing and Objectivity
The voice you write in is dependent upon the type of writing you are engaged in. Although trends may be changing, you are often required to write in the third person. Academic writing is formal in tone and is meant to be objective. This means that the focus is on the writing rather than the writer, so the voice is “this essay”, “this literature review” or “this report”.
Objectivity requires that the paper you are writing should not be a piece of personal opinion, “I think,” or, “We believe,” but substantiated by research, giving evidence from scholarly works you have read. You would therefore use phrases such as, “Research suggests that…”, “Smith and Jones (2010) argue that…” “I” and “We” disappear from academic writing.
Here are some examples…
- The interviewees were… (rather than “they” were).
- The chemical reaction took place straightaway… (rather than “it” took place).
- The staff nurse ensured the wound was… (rather than “she” ensured).
Voice and Tense
- This report analyses the…
- This literature review provides an overview and critical analysis of…
- Evidence, therefore, indicates that…
- The equipment was calibrated prior to the experiment.
- Tension was applied to the bar and at x force it snapped.
- The results were analysed by…
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How to Write in Third Person
Last Updated: October 14, 2022 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Alicia Cook . Alicia Cook is a Professional Writer based in Newark, New Jersey. With over 12 years of experience, Alicia specializes in poetry and uses her platform to advocate for families affected by addiction and to fight for breaking the stigma against addiction and mental illness. She holds a BA in English and Journalism from Georgian Court University and an MBA from Saint Peter’s University. Alicia is a bestselling poet with Andrews McMeel Publishing and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets including the NY Post, CNN, USA Today, the HuffPost, the LA Times, American Songwriter Magazine, and Bustle. She was named by Teen Vogue as one of the 10 social media poets to know and her poetry mixtape, “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” was a finalist in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 19 testimonials and 91% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 1,038,402 times.
Writing in third person can be a simple task, with a little practice. For academic purposes, third person writing means that the writer must avoid using subjective pronouns like “I” or “you.” For creative writing purposes, there are differences between third person omniscient, limited, objective, and episodically limited points of view. Choose which one fits your writing project.
Writing in Third Person Academically
- Third person helps the writing stay focused on facts and evidence instead of personal opinion.
- Third person pronouns include: he, she, it; his, her, its; him, her, it; himself, herself, itself; they; them; their; themselves.
- Names of other people are also considered appropriate for third person use.
- Example: “ Smith believes differently. According to his research, earlier claims on the subject are incorrect.”
- First person pronouns include: I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours, ourselves.  X Research source
- The problem with first person is that, academically speaking, it sounds too personalized and too subjective. In other words, it may be difficult to convince the reader that the views and ideas being expressed are unbiased and untainted by personal feelings. Many times, when using first person in academic writing, people use phrases like "I think," "I believe," or "in my opinion."
- Incorrect example: “Even though Smith thinks this way, I think his argument is incorrect.”
- Correct example: “Even though Smith thinks this way, others in the field disagree.”
- Second person pronouns include: you, your, yours, yourself.  X Research source
- One main problem with second person is that it can sound accusatory. It runs to risk of placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of the reader specifically and presently reading the work.
- Incorrect example: “If you still disagree nowadays, then you must be ignorant of the facts.”
- Correct example: “Someone who still disagrees nowadays must be ignorant of the facts.”
- Indefinite third person nouns common to academic writing include: the writer, the reader, individuals, students, a student, an instructor, people, a person, a woman, a man, a child, researchers, scientists, writers, experts.
- Example: “In spite of the challenges involved, researchers still persist in their claims.”
- Indefinite third person pronouns include: one, anyone, everyone, someone, no one, another, any, each, either, everybody, neither, nobody, other, anybody, somebody, everything, someone.
- Incorrect example: "You might be tempted to agree without all the facts."
- Correct example: “ One might be tempted to agree without all the facts.”
- This is usually done in an attempt to avoid the gender-specific “he” and “she” pronouns. The mistake here would be to use the “they” pronoun with singular conjugation.  X Research source
- Incorrect example: “The witness wanted to offer anonymous testimony. They was afraid of getting hurt if their name was spread.”
- Correct example: “The witness wanted to offer anonymous testimony. They were afraid of getting hurt if their name was spread.”
Writing in Third Person Omniscient
- For instance, a story may include four major characters: William, Bob, Erika, and Samantha. At various points throughout the story, the thoughts and actions of each character should be portrayed. These thoughts can occur within the same chapter or block of narration.
- Writers of omniscient narratives should be conscious of “head-hopping” — that is, shifting character perspectives within a scene. While this does not technically break the rules of Third Person Omniscience, it is widely considered a hallmark of narrative laziness.
- In a sense, the writer of a third person omniscient story is somewhat like the “god” of that story. The writer can observe the external actions of any character at any time, but unlike a limited human observer, the writer can also peek into the inner workings of that character at will, as well.
- Know when to hold back. Even though a writer can reveal any information he or she chooses to reveal, it may be more beneficial to reveal some things gradually. For instance, if one character is supposed to have a mysterious aura, it would be wise to limit access to that character's inner feelings for a while before revealing his or her true motives.
- Do not use first person and second person points of view in the narrative or descriptive portions of the text.
- Correct example: Bob said to Erika, “I think this is creepy. What do you think?”
- Incorrect example: I thought this was creepy, and Bob and Erika thought so, too. What do you think?
Writing in Third Person Limited
- The thoughts and feelings of other characters remain an unknown for the writer throughout the duration of the text. There should be no switching back and forth between characters for this specific type of narrative viewpoint.
- Unlike first person, where the narrator and protagonist are the same, third person limited puts a critical sliver of distance between protagonist and narrator. The writer has the choice to describe one main character’s nasty habit — something they wouldn’t readily reveal if the narration were left entirely to them.
- In other words, do not use first person pronouns like “I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” or “our” outside of dialog. The main character's thoughts and feelings are transparent to the writer, but that character should not double as a narrator.
- Correct example: “Tiffany felt awful after the argument with her boyfriend.”
- Correct example: “Tiffany thought, “I feel awful after that argument with my boyfriend.”
- Incorrect example: “I felt awful after the argument with my boyfriend.”
- Note that the writer can offer insight or guesses regarding the thoughts of other characters, but those guesses must be presented through the perspective of the main character.
- Correct example: “Tiffany felt awful, but judging by the expression on Carl's face, she imagined that he felt just as bad if not worse.”
- Incorrect example: “Tiffany felt awful. What she didn't know was that Carl felt even worse.”
- Correct example: “Tiffany watched from the window as Carl walked up to her house and rang the doorbell.”
- Incorrect example: “As soon as Tiffany left the room, Carl let out a sigh of relief.”
Writing in Episodically Limited Third Person
- Limit the amount of pov characters you include. You don't want to have too many characters that confuse your reader or serve no purpose. Each pov character should have a specific purpose for having a unique point of view. Ask yourself what each pov character contributes to the story.
- For instance, in a romance story following two main characters, Kevin and Felicia, the writer may opt to explain the inner workings of both characters at different moments in the story.
- One character may receive more attention than any other, but all main characters being followed should receive attention at some point in the story.
- Multiple perspectives should not appear within the same narrative space. When one character's perspective ends, another character's can begin. The two perspectives should not be intermixed within the same space.
- Incorrect example: “Kevin felt completely enamored of Felicia from the moment he met her. Felicia, on the other hand, had difficulty trusting Kevin.”
- In a novel-length work, a good time to switch perspective is at the start of a new chapter or at a chapter break.
- The writer should also identify the character whose perspective is being followed at the start of the section, preferably in the first sentence. Otherwise, the reader may waste too much energy guessing.
- Correct example: “Felicia hated to admit it, but the roses Kevin left on her doorstep were a pleasant surprise.”
- Incorrect example: “The roses left on the doorstep seemed like a nice touch.”
- For instance, if Kevin had a talk with Felicia's best friend about Felicia's feelings for him, Felicia herself would have no way of knowing what was said unless she witnessed the conversation or heard about it from either Kevin or her friend.
Writing in Third Person Objective
- There does not need to be a single main character to focus on. The writer can switch between characters, following different characters throughout the course of the narrative, as often as needed.
- Stay away from first person terms like “I” and second person terms like “you” in the narrative, though. Only use first and second person within dialog.
- Imagine that you are an invisible bystander observing the actions and dialog of the characters in your story. You are not omniscient, so you do not have access to any character's inner thoughts and feelings. You only have access to each character's actions.
- Correct example: “After class, Graham hurriedly left the room and rushed back to his dorm room.”
- Incorrect example: “After class, Graham raced from the room and rushed back to his dorm room. The lecture had made him so angry that he felt as though he might snap at the next person he met.”
- Correct example: “When no one else was watching her, Isabelle began to cry.”
- Incorrect example: “Isabelle was too prideful to cry in front of other people, but she felt completely broken-hearted and began crying once she was alone.”
- Let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. Present the actions of the character without analyzing them or explaining how those actions should be viewed.
- Correct example: “Yolanda looked over her shoulder three times before sitting down.”
- Incorrect example: “It might seem like a strange action, but Yolanda looked over her shoulder three times before sitting down. This compulsive habit is an indication of her paranoid state of mind.”
Examples of Third Person POV
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- ↑ http://studysupportresources.port.ac.uk/Writing%20in%20the%20third%20peson.pdf
- ↑ http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/third_person.htm
- ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/use-the-singular-they/
- ↑ Alicia Cook. Professional Writer. Expert Interview. 11 December 2020.
- ↑ https://litreactor.com/columns/which-pov-is-right-for-your-story
- ↑ https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/point-of-view-first-second-third-person-difference
- ↑ https://ojs.library.dal.ca/YAHS/article/viewFile/7236/6278
- ↑ http://litreactor.com/columns/which-pov-is-right-for-your-story
About This Article
To write in third person, refer to people or characters by name or use third person pronouns like he, she, it; his, her, its; him, her, it; himself, herself, itself; they; them; their; and themselves. Avoid first and second person pronouns completely. For academic writing, focus on a general viewpoint rather than a specific person's to keep things in third person. In other types of writing, you can write in third person by shifting your focus from character to character or by focusing on a single character. To learn more from our Literary Studies Ph.D., like the differences between third person omniscient and third person limited writing, keep reading the article! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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