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Writing in The First and Third Persons

Getting Started

The way people go about writing essays can vary a great deal from one individual to the next. Some people spend a lot of time fretting over how to write an informative paper, one that is educational, or even entertaining for the readers. However, the content is not the only issue – it is how the essay is written or should be written. A lot of people get confused about the first person and third person and which one they should use.

Certainly, a lot of writers can feel confused about which person to use. It is easy to fill an essay with informative content, but the writer needs an in-depth understanding of all viewpoints to avoid moving from one person to the other, or they at least need to know this is happening. Undoubtedly, this mixed method can demonstrate certain cleverness, but it can lead to confusion in essay writing and other non-fictional works.

How or Why Does This Matter?

Switching continuously from the first to the third person can lead to confusion for the reader. Who is speaking exactly? What makes part of the essay seem impersonal and detached when the next part – the first-person essay part – seems personal and rather intimate? The mistake of writing from both viewpoints without being aware of doing so can give the impression of haphazardness.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Writing in the First Person

Writing an essay in the first person – opposed to writing a third person essay – indicates the writer is speaking solely from their perspective, and not that of another person. Hence, information will be delivered or a story told using such words as “I,” “we,” “me,” “mine,”  “us,” “ours” and “our.” For example, “I was told about this remote island over a year ago by a friend who was there during a hurricane. His story immediately attracted me to the place, and luckily when we visited, we were blessed with great weather and our holiday was blissful.”

Looking at the example above you will see that, in using the first person narrative essay writing style, the writer can share his or her information, even though they are not speaking specifically about themselves. This lends their work a more personal, intimate, and subjective voice. Additionally, it allows the writer to talk about an experience, event, and/or people while providing, or omitting, as much information as suits them. The first-person voice also allows them to share their personal feelings, emotions, and thoughts while offering their opinion, understanding, and other information only they possess. This enables the reader to become part of the story and develop empathy with the writer’s feelings and viewpoint.

For this reason, the first person is popular for writing autobiographies and memoirs, and for writing about personal experiences and non-fictional works where the writer can also make themselves one of the characters in the narrative. However, there are some limitations to writing in the first person. The first limitation, and possibly the most apparent one, is that the writer is restricted to just one viewpoint, which can make the writing awkward, constricted, and possibly too narrow. Less cautious or inexperienced writers can fall into the trap of putting the entire focus of the essay, or most of it, on themselves, even in situations where other characters, subjects, or even events require some attention. So, if you had previously been wondering, “what is first and third person,” you should now have a good idea of what the first person voice is all about.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Writing in the Third Person

Now, what about the third person? Using the third person viewpoint is, in fact, another versatile writing tool that can be used for writing narrative essays and other types of non-fictional works where the writer is not one of the story’s characters. Unlike the personal narrative essay style, the third person serves as a detached, unnamed, and unspecified person used to convey information to the reader. Third-person writing uses words such as: “she,” “he,” “they” and “it” when referring to characters and people. The writer never uses the words “I” or “we” unless they are quoting directly. For example, “In 2005, the residents of the remote island suffered a devastating catastrophe, which took the form of a hurricane that was reported in the media as the worst in the island’s history. It took two years to clear up, and it was only then the islanders were able to start promoting their island as a ‘safe’ holiday destination again.”

As this example shows, the third-person voice adds a factual tone – it is more than a mere selection of the writer’s own opinions, thoughts and ideas. It additionally makes the written piece sound less casual and more professional. Furthermore, the third-person viewpoint creates a suitable distance between the writer and his or her readers, which is necessary to reflect any rhetorical situation. Not being a fictional piece, the primary purpose is to convey topic-related information to the reader. Readers are entitled to believe the information is factually accurate or at least as accurate as the context allows. Hopefully, this answers the question, “what is writing in the third person?”

It is quite common to use the third-person perspective when writing biographies, critiques, history papers, journalistic articles, reports, research papers, and so on. Again, this allows the writer to establish objectivity and distance in their work, which is the primary distinction between using the first person and third person voice.