Online Writing Lab

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.