Points of View in Writing
There are three different points of view that can be used in writing: first person, second person, and third person. In academic writing, the third person point of view is usually clearer and allows a writer to come across as more credible. Due to this and other reasons, the third person point of view is considered the best in academic writing.
First person occurs primarily through the use of the pronoun “I.” This is the point of view used when a writer is writing about himself. There may be times when it is okay to incorporate personal examples into an essay, and if so, the first person will be used. However, it is generally best to avoid referring to yourself, as the writer. Statements like “I believe” or “I think” tend to weaken writing and are better when written in the third person. (example: “The U.S. government needs to pass this law” is better and stronger than “I believe the U.S. government needs to pass this law.”)
Second person 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. Let’s look at the following example:
- All beginning college students should learn how to write well. Doing so will allow you to do better in school, and you will receive better grades.
Notice the shift that occurred from the first sentence, which is written in the third person, to the second sentence, which is written in the second person. This second sentence alienates readers who are not beginning college students since the information does not pertain to them. However, if the second sentence is written in the third person, even people who are not beginning college students can keep reading and learn from the essay:
- Revised: All beginning college students should learn how to write well. Doing so will allow them to do better in school and receive better grades.
Third Person involves directly stating who is being written about without using the words I, me, we, us, or you. In the example above, the use of both college students and they keeps this writing in the third person.
To clarify, here are examples of sentences written in the various points of view:
First person: I should learn how to write well.
Second person: You should learn how to write well.
Third person: College students should learn how to write well.
As mentioned earlier, most academic essays should be written almost entirely in the third person. The second person should be avoided, and the first person should only be used when using personal examples that help support claims made in the essay. In addition to enhancing credibility, another reason to write primarily in the third person is because frequent changes in point of view can create confusion for the reader.
Differences Between First and Third Person
Personal Writing, such as for a reflective essay, or a "personal response" discussion posting, can be written in the first person (using "I" and "me"), and may use personal opinions and anecdotes as evidence for the point you are trying to make. All other Ashford papers (Exposition, Persuasion, and Research Papers) should generally be written in third person, and should use only credible academic sources to support your argument.
EXAMPLES OF FIRST AND THIRD PERSON WRITING
First person example (only acceptable for personal writing)I think Shakespeare's play Hamlet is about the relationships between family members. I really liked the play, and in some ways the characters reminded me of my own family.
Third person correction (appropriate for all other academic writing)Shakespeare's play Hamlet deals with the relationships between family members. In Examining Hamlet, Arnold Latimer describes these relationships as "conflicted" (2005, pg. 327).
Explanation:In the second example, the pronouns "I" and "me" have been omitted, and academic sources are used as evidence.
First person example (only acceptable for personal writing)The theory of learning that I relate to the most is Bandura's social cognitive theory. This is the theory that you can learn to do things by observing others. I know this theory is true because I learned how to fix cars by watching my dad over many years.
Third person correction (appropriate for all other academic writing)Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory is based on the idea that people can acquire knowledge by observing others through social interaction. This theory was demonstrated through Bandura's "Bobo Doll" experiment (1961).
Explanation: In the second examples, the focus is on objective facts, rather than on what "I" think, and academic sources are used as evidence.