Choosing the Right Point of View and Personal Pronouns

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Using the right point of view is essential for ensuring your essay has the most impact on readers. While the content of your essay matters, how you present that content is important as well. Changing the point of view repeatedly throughout your academic essays or writing with a POV and personal pronouns that are inappropriate hurts your message and your grade.

There are three points of view used in academic essay writing, and each is appropriate in certain situations:

  • First person—represents you as the speaker or person sharing information, thoughts or ideas
  • Second person—represents the person (or thing) to which you are speaking or directing content
  • Third person—represents a person (or thing) being spoken or written about

First person

Writing in the first person entails writing from your own point of view. The thoughts, judgments, observations, feelings, understandings and experiences you write about are conveyed from your perspective. First-person POV involves using the following personal pronouns:

  • Subjective case: I, we
  • Objective case: me, us
  • Possessive case: mine, ours
  • Reflexive case: myself, ourselves

Writing in the first person creates a tone that is more personal, more subjective and more intimate. For this reason, it is not ideal for all types of academic essay writing. The first-person point of view is typically reserved for the following types of essays:

  • Memoirs
  • Autobiographical essays
  • Personal essays
  • Stories and other fiction

Writing from this perspective limits you to one point of view, and it lacks the objectivity needed in many types of writing, including research writing and essays where the lack of objectivity hurts the premise of the essay. The biggest risk of using first-person point of view inappropriately is that you put the focus on yourself instead of on other essential information, subjects, events or characters.

Second person

Writing in the second person directly addresses your reader or readers; it is used to address one person or multiple people. Within this point of view, the imperative mood is often used. This occurs when the subject of “you” is implied but not expressly written. Think of it as giving a direct order to your readers (“Prepare to take a test,” for example). Second-person POV involves using the following personal pronouns:

  • Subjective case: you (as the subject or following a linking verb)
  • Objective case: you (as the object of preposition or verb)
  • Possessive case: your, yours
  • Reflexive case: yourself, yourselves

Using this point of view is generally not applicable to most academic essay writing. It is more commonly used in business and technical writing, especially for step-by-step instructions and presentations. Using second-person personal pronouns is also generally used for a process essay or any essay where you are giving detailed instructions to your readers. It is sometimes used in fiction writing, but be sure to check with your instructor if you are unsure whether this POV is acceptable for a particular assignment.

Third person

Writing in the third person is the most objective point of view. It removes the subjectivity from what you write. It is used to address one person or multiple people. Third-person POV involves using the following personal pronouns:

  • Subjective case: he, she, it they
  • Objective case: him, her, it, them
  • Possessive case: his, her, hers, its, their, theirs
  • Reflexive case: himself, herself, itself, themselves

The third-person point of view is typically reserved for the following types of essays:

  • Critiques
  • Biographies
  • Most academic essays
  • Reports
  • Research papers
  • Journalistic essays
  • The personal pronouns refer to people, places, things or ideas. When writing in the third-person point of view, you are an uninvolved and unnamed narrator who is conveying information objectively to create a more formal distance. This distance allows you to present a specific case or make specific arguments. In a persuasive essay for example, you are using facts to persuade readers, not telling readers what to think by writing in second person or sharing personal experiences by writing in first person.

    Third-person POV makes your essays sound more factual and professional. It creates a distance between you as the author and your readers. This degree of separation is necessary to present the rhetorical situations found in many academic essays.

    Writing with a consistent POV

    For the most part, stay within one point of view throughout an entire essay. Some stylistic effects or direct quotations may necessitate switching, but avoid changing the perspective if at all possible. Constantly changing the point of view is confusing to your readers and often results in pronoun/antecedent disagreements. When you mix points of view unnecessarily or inappropriately, you also give the impression that your essay was hastily written.