Why Third-Person Writing Is Critical to a Great Essay
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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

third-person writing

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.

First-Person Writing

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 Writing

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

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:

red xThis is why I believe jazz is the first form of truly American music.

green checkThis 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:

red xI believe that children should consume less sugar because it leads to higher risk of obesity.

green checkAccording 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:

red xWhen 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.

green checkWhen 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!

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  • Ronnilyn

    The essay I recently turned in was returned because it was not written in third person. I am not sure how to write in third person. Any guidance will be appreciated

    • Hi there,
      You’ll want to rewrite any sentences containing the word “I”, me, or my.
      For example, “I think dogs are cute.” becomes “Dogs are cute.”
      or “In my opinion, the Warriors should have won.” becomes “The Warriors should have won.”

      If you need more help, you could submit your essay to the Kibin editors who could help change your paper to third person so that you can see exactly how that works for next time. You can learn more about our editing service here: https://www.kibin.com/essay-editing-proofreading (If you do decide to try it, make sure to state that you need help changing to 3rd person in your instructions.)

      Best,
      Naomi

  • Hi Taylor,
    You can still use your personal learnings about independence and responsibility and transform it into third person.

    For example in first-person I might write: “I have learned a great deal about personal independence and responsibility since starting university. First, I found out how important it is for me to manage my budget so that I don’t run out of money for food and laundry before the end of the month. I now know that it costs about $400 to eat and $30 to do laundry for the month and I set this aside on the first.”

    Now, I will transform those same thoughts to a third person formal essay: “Students learn a lot about personal independence and responsibility when starting university. One critical step is understanding how to manage a personal budget in order to ensure that essentials such as food and laundry are covered throughout the month. Jane Doe, a fake financial expert at Fidelity Advisors, says that students should plan to set aside about $400 for food every month and should track their expenses using a budgeting app or spreadsheet in order to not go over budget.”

    Do you see the difference?

    Happy writing!
    Naomi

  • Rami Albalawi

    Hi, I’m writing a narrative essay about a dystopian society that I created. It involves a plot and a planned story, but I’m not sure on how to approach it. Suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Hi Rami,

      That sounds like a fun project! Since you have it planned out, here are a few suggestions.

      Will you be writing this essay in third person or first? Third person is better if you want to have more flexibility of perspective, which could be especially helpful if you have a lot of different characters. First person is better if you’re really trying to dig into the emotions and motives of a single protagonist.

      You might also want to sketch out the rules of your society. Even going through the exercise of writing out the rules before you dig into the narrative can help you stay true to a consistent setting.
      Also if you are doing something fairly character heavy, a similar sketch for each character might help you in a similar way.

      Happy writing!