Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Write in the Third Person (instead of "I," "we," "us," or "you")

It is the end of the academic semester and there is a rush of final papers to write and submit. You should be highlighting your hard work in your papers instead of distracting the reader with less precise writing.

One way to show your confidence and knowledge is to write your formal, academic papers in the third person. Instead of addressing the reader in a second person (“you”) or first person singular (“I”) or plural (“we” or “us”) address, write in the third person. This gives you the opportunity to be as specific as possible when you are writing.

For example, instead of writing, “We don’t agree with X,” write something that better describes who “we” are and why that group does not agree with something. You might start with “readers,” but then work to better define a particular group of readers. What kinds of readers? Does their gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, religion, etc., matter? Work to be as specific as possible.

When I read a formal, academic paper that addresses me directly through the use of second person (“you”), I become a defensive reader. I immediately start to think about reasons why I do not agree with what the author states that I do or think. As I wrote above, it is more specific to say exactly who you mean, instead of relying on only a certain group of people to read your essay and agree with you. Ideally, your work should stand on its own outside of class.

Yes, I address my blog readers in the second person and use “you.” Why? Because my readership, in this context, is limited because of the subject matter. Readers are interested in strengthening their writing skills and therefore I am addressing them (that is to say, you) directly. If I were writing something more formal, say for a class or a peer reviewed journal, I would be more specific in my address.

For more, you might be interested a recent post about how to construct a strong thesis statement and why to avoid using less confident, first-person phrases such as “I believe that” to introduce your research and ideas. 


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