Its important for students to write in the third person, but from my experience of teaching them when they leave school, this skill is lacking. For many, they don’t even seem to be sure what it is or what it looks like. Therefore, in this post I’m going to explore what writing in the third person is, what it looks like and why it is necessary in employment or life.
What is The Third Person
Whether we write in the first, second or third person, they are all grammatical terms to explain whether we write saying:
- I/We – First Person
- You – Second Person
- He/She/They/It – Third Person
Usually, if we’re used to talking about ourselves we will be more comfortable using the first person. In the previous sentence I used “we” which is the plural form of the first person. I’m using the first person writing this as its more relaxed and informal. By saying “we” hopefully that makes you feel more included and that I’m talking to you directly. This kind of approach will work well in private, personal and informal situations where I’m trying to share my own personal opinions, such as my posts where I’m visiting cafes and restaurants and I want to tell you about how much I enjoyed what I ate and drank.
If we were to write in the second person, I’d be saying “you” all the time, so I’m switching the focus from me to you. Unless I’m writing in the past, where I’d be narrating what you did, in the present or future, its more likely to read as an instruction: I’m telling you what to do “when writing academically you must use the third person.” So the second person voice allows you to talk directly to the reader and ideally should be avoided in formal writing.
As an educator this post is primarily targeted towards students trying to adjust their writing style, but it should be useful for anyone who needs to write formally.
Writing in the third person should be straightforward, simply writing using one of the third person pronouns. However, from working with students, the most common question is how do I write in the third person when I’m writing about my own work, about my opinions? The most common way around this would be to use the passive voice. Alternatively, if you’re writing about an organisation, you could name it or use ‘it’. I wouldn’t encourage its use very much, but you could say ‘the writer’. Personally, my preference would be to use the passive voice. Sometimes the passive voice may also mean using fewer words,which can sometimes also be an important factor. By using the passive voice you are making the objects of your sentence your focus.
For example, the report was written by Brenda rather than Brenda (or I) wrote the report.
On many occasions with formal writing you will want to avoid identifying a particular person. Rather than I carried out research or I spoke to X – research was carried out or X was spoken to.
It may be that in some situations you are encouraged not to use the third person because it is too distant, but for academic writing, it is likely your assessments should be written in the third person, and with the passive voice.
Why is The Third Person Important
In formal writing its not simply about putting down your ideas, you are likely trying to persuade others of your arguments. You want to present a good case with lots of evidence that others will consider credible and is supported with evidence. Emotion should be removed from your work in this situation. When written in the third person, work comes across as objective and unbiased and be perceived as more credible and convincing.
I hope you have found this exploration of writing with the correct grammatical voice/person helpful, but as ever, if you have a question, please use the comments section.
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