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Starting An Essay In Third Person

In the past, you might have had problems getting that polished, professional feel to your essays, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. Are your ideas too underdeveloped? Is your thesis statement not good enough? Do you not have enough support for your arguments?

Sometimes the problem with your essay is simply the point of view you choose to write in. Using third-person writing can make a world of difference in giving your essay the right tone.

Three Different Points of View

If you’re not sure what the different points of view are, I’ll give you a run-down and some examples to help you see more clearly. And for an added bonus, I’ll give you a couple clips from the king of narration himself, Morgan Freeman.

First-Person Writing

When you write in first person, you use I and me. Think of yourself as the “first person”–any pronoun that indicates something you do or think is going to be first person. You see this a lot when you’re reading books from the main character’s perspective.

Typically, however, first-person writing is not very effective in writing essays. (We’ll get to why that is in a second.)

Example: I believe that third-person writing is the best point of view when writing an essay.

First-person writing or narration also uses us and we, as you’ll see in this example:

Second-Person Writing

Second-person point of view uses the pronoun you. Second-person writing is the equivalent to a choose-your-own-adventure novel or a self-help book. It speaks directly to the audience.

However, the conversational tone of writing in second-person is not usually ideal for academic writing.

Example: You would do better on your essays if you wrote in third person.

It is important to note that when you aren’t writing strictly in third person, the point of view can shift from sentence to sentence.

In the next example, you’ll notice that both first-person and second-person points of view are present. The lyrics Freeman reads shift between using “you/your” and first-person singular pronouns throughout the clip.

Third-Person Writing

Third-person writing uses the pronouns they, him, her, and it, as well as proper nouns. This is the type of writing you would see in a novel with an outside narrator.

Example: Teachers and students agree that third-person writing makes essays sound better.

Here’s one last video example, this one using third-person perspective, from the man with the golden voice:

Why Third-Person Writing is Important

Third-Person Writing Makes Your Essay Sound More Assertive.

If you write your essay in first person, you risk the chance of statements like “I think” or “I believe.” These kinds of statements sound more passive than just stating your facts. Notice the difference between the following sentences:

This is why I believe jazz is the first form of truly American music.

This is why jazz is the first form of truly American music.

The second sentence–the one that uses third-person–sets a more definite tone. You are presenting the sentence as a statement of fact instead of a personal belief.

Third-Person Writing Makes Your Support Sound More Credible.

On a related note, first-person writing makes your support sound like it’s coming from a non-credible source. Presenting facts or opinions with “I think” or “I believe” in front doesn’t give any validity to the statement.

Third-person writing encourages you to use other sources to validate your claims. The following two sentences will illustrate this further:

I believe that children should consume less sugar because it leads to higher risk of obesity.

According to the Obesity Action Coalition, children who consume a lot of sugar have an increased risk of obesity.

The second sentence pulls an authoritative source to support the claim instead of you, the writer. This makes the claim more credible to the reader.

Third-Person Writing Sounds Less Conversational and More Professional.

As I mentioned before, writing in the first or second person leads to a more conversational tone. While this may be good for some forms of writing (this blog post, for example), you want your academic writing to take on a more formal tone. Consider the following examples:

When writing a novel, you should think about what kind of tone you want to portray before choosing which point of view you want to use.

When writing a novel, authors should think about the kind of tone they want to portray before choosing which point of view they want to use.

The first sentence creates a more intimate and conversational tone with the reader, but the second sentence tells the reader what kind of person (authors) would benefit from reading the sentence.

It is more specific and, therefore, creates a more formal tone.

Exceptions to the Third-Person Writing Rule

I won’t ever tell you that it’s always a good idea to write one specific way. Third-person writing is usually a good idea in academic writing, but there are cases where first-person writing is a better call.

When You’re Writing A Personal Narrative.

Personal narrative essays are designed to tell the reader something that has happened in your life, so first-person writing would be the preferred choice here. Whether it be something that embarrassed you, angered you, or made you proud or happy, narrative essays are all about real-world life experiences.

When You’re Talking About Your Own Opinions.

Like narrative essays, using your own opinions in essays may sometimes require the use of the first person, especially if you are drawing on personal experiences. Usually, this will happen in persuasive essays.

It is important to note that you should still try to use third-person writing for your persuasive essays because, as I mentioned earlier, it will give a more formal tone and more credibility to your argument. However, if some personal experience is especially relevant, it would be okay to use the first person (unless your teacher says otherwise, of course).

When You’re Doing Other Informal Types of Writing.

Essays are not the only types of writing assignments you’re likely to receive. Short stories and poetry pop up in classes from time to time, and these can be written any number of ways. Short stories can take the first- or third-person perspective–they rarely use second person. Poetry can use any of the three points of view.

(For more, read When to Use First-Person Writing in Your Essays)

When you are concentrating strictly on academic essays, third-person writing is (usually) crucial. And it’s not hard to do. Just look at any references to yourself or the reader and change around the sentence to eliminate the I, me, you, we, and us pronouns. Doing so will make your writing stronger, clearer, and more professional.

If you still can’t quite get the hang of third-person writing, there’s no need to stress out over it. Just send your essay to one of the Kibin editors to help you out.

Now… go try your hand at third-person writing!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

Writing in the Third Person

Though it's easy to fall into the habit of always writing in the first person, it's crucial to be able to use the third person as well. Both first person and third person have their strengths and weaknesses; what works for one story may not work for another.

This exercise will help you observe the effect of writing in the third person point of view to add this tool to your toolbox. It might also show you directions for the story you hadn't considered before.

Any distance you can have from the page, or new ways you can have of seeing the same narrative are important.

Often, as writers, we are too focused on what we think the story is about, rather than - perhaps - what it has become on the page. Changing point of view can give you a new perspective, often illuminating new pieces of your fiction, inspiring new ideas, and - ultimately - making for deeper and more introspective fiction.

What You Need

  • A scene from a recent story or novel.
  • Computer or paper and pen.
  • Quiet place to work.

How to Write in the Third Person

  1. Choose a particularly compelling -- or problematic -- scene from a piece of prose you have recently written in the first person. Try to find a piece that includes both dialogue and exposition. 
  2. Rewrite the piece from the third person point of view. Take your time. It may require some strategizing to pull off the transformation. You'll also have to consider whether or not you want to use third person omniscient or limited. In moving from first to third, it might be easiest to try the third person limited first.
  1. Notice how the change in point of view changes the voice and the mood of the story. What freedom do you have with this narrator that you did not have before? If you have chosen limited third person, is there anything that you now know about the character that you didn't before? If you have chosen omniscient, does the new information inform or inhibit the story? Likewise, are there any limitations in using this point of view?
  1. Make a list of three or four advantages of the new point of view: ways the new voice helps develop plot and/or character. Does it change the structure? Does the heart of the story change, or does it become more refined? 
  2. Make a list of the limitations of the third person point of view with regard to this particular piece. Is it the most effective way of telling this story? Were there ways in which it was harder to develop your central character with the third person? Did it force you to use other techniques in revealing your character? Was the voice stronger or weaker? If weaker, was the trade-off worthwhile?
  3. If the new point of view works well with this scene, consider changing the point of view for the entire piece. Otherwise, return to your original.

Tips

  1. Even if changing to the third person point of view has not improved this particular piece, remain open to it in future work. Use the lessons learned in this exercise to evaluate point of view in all the fiction you write. As you become more comfortable with the third person, you might begin to find the distance it can provide helps you have a new perspective on your narrative. 
  2. Lorrie Moore has a good explanation for how she chooses POV: "There are times when the first person is necessary for observing others (not the protagonist) in a voice that simultaneously creates a character (usually the protagonist); then there are times when the third person is necessary for observing the protagonist in a voice that is not the character’s but the story’s."
  1. Want to practice other aspects of craft and technique? Find more craft exercises here.