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Point of View in Academic Writing

Point of view is the perspective from which an essay is written. The following chart lists both the personal pronouns and their possessive forms used with these points of view:

  Singular Plural
First Person I, me (my, mine) we, us (our, ours)
Second Person you (your, yours) you (your, yours)
Third Person they, them (their, theirs)
she, her (her, hers)
he, him (his)
it (its)
one (one’s)
they, them (their, theirs)
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When choosing appropriate point of view for academic or formal writing, consider the type and purpose of the assignment.

Consistency is Key!

When using any of the three points of view, maintaining consistency is vital. Switching between points of view can be confusing for the reader. Choose a suitable perspective and then stay with it.

Unclear: The accident happened right in front of us so you could see who was at fault.
Revised: The accident happened right in front of us so we could see who was at fault.

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First Person

First-person point of view is used to write stories/narratives or examples about personal experiences from your own life. Note the following paragraph:

Several people have made a lasting impression on me. I remember one person in particular who was significant to me. Dr. Smith, my high school English teacher, helped my family and me through a difficult time during my junior year. We appreciated her care, kindness, and financial help after the loss of our home in a devastating fire.

Note: Academic writing often requires us to avoid first-person point of view in favor of third-person point of view, which can be more objective and convincing. Often, students will say, “I think the author is very convincing.” Taking out I makes a stronger statement or claim: “The author is very convincing.”

Second Person

Second-person point of view, which directly addresses the reader, works well for giving advice or explaining how to do something. A process analysis paper would be a good choice for using the second-person point of view, as shown in this paragraph:

In order to prepare microwave popcorn, you will need a microwave and a box of microwave popcorn which you’ve purchased at a grocery store. First of all, you need to remove the popcorn package from the box and take off the plastic wrap. Next, open your microwave and place the package in the center with the proper side up. Then set your microwave for the suggested number of minutes as stated on the box. Finally, when the popcorn is popped, you’re ready for a great treat.

Note: Academic writing generally avoids second-person point of view in favor of third-person point of view. Second person can be too casual for formal writing, and it can also alienate the reader if the reader does not identify with the idea.

Replacing You

In academic writing, sometimes "you" needs to be replaced with nouns or proper nouns to create more formality or to clarify the idea. Here are some examples:

Inappropriate Use of “You” Revised to Replace “You”
Quality of education decreases when you allow overcrowded classrooms.
(Are you, the reader, allowing the conditions?)
Quality of education decreases when state legislators allow overcrowded classrooms.
(Identifies who is doing what.)

On Saturday afternoons, you usually have to stand in long lines to buy groceries.
(Are you, the reader, shopping on this day and time?)

Saturday afternoon shoppers usually have to stand in long lines to buy groceries.
(Identifies who is doing what.)
In many states, you have prisons with few rehabilitation programs.
(Do you, the reader, have prisons?)
In many states, prisons have few rehabilitation programs.
(Identifies the actual subject of the sentence.)
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Third Person

Third-person point of view identifies people by proper noun (a given name such as Shema Ahemed) or noun (such as teachers, students, players, or doctors) and uses the pronouns they, she, and he. Third person also includes the use of one, everyone, and anyone. Most formal, academic writing uses the third person. Note the use of various third-person nouns and pronouns in the following:

The bosses at the company have decided that employees need a day of in-house training. Times have been scheduled for everyone. Several senior employees will be required to make five-minute presentations. One is not eager to speak in front of others since he’s very shy. Another one, however, is anxious to relate their expertise. The variation in routine should provide an interesting day for all people concerned.

Third Person Pronouns: Gender-Fair Use of Language and Singular “They”

In the past, if you wanted to refer to one unnamed person, you used the masculine pronoun: If a person is strong, he will stand up for himself. Today, you should avoid the automatic use of the masculine pronoun because it is considered sexist language.

Also avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes by assigning a particular gendered pronoun: A doctor should listen to his patients. A nurse should listen to her patients. These examples make assumptions that doctors are men and nurses are women, which is a sexist stereotype.

Instead, use the pronouns they or them to refer to a person whose gender is undisclosed or irrelevant to the context of the usage: If a person is strong, they will stand up for themselves when they believe in something.

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