In grading my paper, you suggested I use "third person."
What is "third person" and why should I use it?


Third person refers to a specific point of view or governing pronoun. There are three possibilities: first, second or third.

If it is appropriate to relate personal experience or reflection, writers use the first person pronouns I or we. An essay exploring "The Greatest Influence on my Life" would certainly be effective in the first person. "Many people have influenced me over the years, but I was most influenced, even changed, by my high school home room teacher."

If you are truly addressing or advising the reader then use of the second person pronoun, you, is appropriate. My comments here, for example, are addressed to you. I am literally advising you about what I believe you should do.

Much academic writing, however, focuses on a subject rather than a reader. As a result, the most commonly used point of view is third person which focuses on specific people or subjects and uses the third person pronouns: he, she, it, or they.

In deciding which point of view to use, you must be sure of your audience. One of my students wrote an essay which compared and contrasted natural childbirth and caesarean section. Throughout the essay she wrote sentences using the second person "you." For example, she wrote "You will recover much more quickly from a natural childbirth than a caesarean section, and you certainly won't miss the scar."

Were she writing an article intended to be read by women, her use of "you" might be appropriate. But the essay was written for a male college professor who has no choice in the matter! I suggested that it would be far more appropriate for her to write, "Women facing this choice should be aware that they will recover much more quickly from a natural childbirth than a caesarean section, and they certainly won't miss the scar."


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