Writing Tips

Writing for Academia, Literary Criticism & Analysis, Literature Reviews, and Annotated Bibliographies

1st vs. 2nd vs. 3rd person

Pronouns are a set of words that replace nouns. They can be used to make your work less complicated and less repetitive. Examples of pronouns include:

  • First person: I, we, me, us
  • Second person: you
  • Third person: he, she, it, they, him, her, them

For some assignments, it is appropriate to use the first person. However, for other assignments the third person is preferred. Sometimes a mixture of the first and third person should be used for different purposes. So, check your assignment guidelines for each assignment, as it will differ for different assignment types, different style guides, and different disciplines. If you are unsure, then check with your professor.

Adapted from OWLL

First Person Preference

The first person can be used to make writing more concise when providing personal reflection, stating a position, or outlining the structure of an assignment.

Some disciplines/professors allow or encourage the use of first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.). The use of the first person is also recommended/allowed in some style guides. For example, in the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (6th ed.) it is recommended that authors use the first person to avoid ambiguity and anthropomorphism.

Academic training requires students to support the claims they make by providing solid arguments and/or evidence. So, even when the first person is used in academic writing it can, and usually should, still sound objective.

 

The following examples illustrate some ways you can use the first person in your writing:

tickIn this essay, I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviors.

tickI will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviors.

crossThe essay will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behavior.

Adapted from OWLL

Second Person Preference

Second person point of view, which directly addresses the reader, involves the use of the pronoun “you” to refer to the reader. There are few times to use the second person in academic writing, as it can alienate the reader if the reader does not identify with the idea. However, second person point of view 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. 

For example:

"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 ..."

Third Person Preference

Some disciplines/professors discourage the use of the first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.) and prefer the use of the third person because it makes writing sound objective.

 

The following examples illustrate ways to write without using the first person:

tickHow gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviors will be examined.

tickCareful examination of gender and ethnicity factors shows how these affect buying behavior.

crossIn this essay, I will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviors.

Adapted from OWLL