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.
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 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 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.
In contrast to the writing in first person, the third person narrator is one of the most commonly used narrative modes. Here the narrator describes what is happening to the characters in the story. The characters are referred by their names or as “he” or “she” or even “they.”
Third Person Narration: Truths
- The third person narrator is normally not a character in the story.
- The third person narrator provides an-outside-looking-in view of the story.
- Depending on the type of third person narrator (See table below), the narrator can narrate anything that happens to any or all of the characters. Most of the time there is no restriction on what the narrator knows and that includes occurrences that will take place in the future.
Third person narrators are used widely and across all story forms. Biographies have to employ the third person narrator.
Some Famous 3rd Person Accounts
- The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
- When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan
Advantages of Using Third Person Point of View
As a writer you have complete flexibility to get into the minds of your characters. You can show thought and intentions and motivations of the entire cast of characters.
John Gardner author of the acclaimed book of writing craft The Art of Fiction advocates the use of 3rd person narrators, especially the omniscient narrator. He writes, “In the authorial omniscient, the writer speaks as, in effect, God. He sees into all his characters’ hearts and minds, presents all positions with justice and detachment, and occasionally dips into the third person subjective to give the reader an immediate sense of why the character feels as he does, but reserves to himself the right to judge.”
2. Larger the Story… When you need different characters to convey the story
When you have a rather large story cooking in your head which requires multiple voices for you to do justice to, it is advantageous to use the 3rd person point of view. Else you could end up restricting its natural flow constantly having to battle questions about how a first person voice is privy to key dramatic events happening to other characters. For instance you can switch to the antagonist, and show the reader what he is doing to create obstacles for the protagonist, and this is something the protagonist doesn’t know but you, the reader, knows.
3. Objectivity (See Box Below)
A third person narrator can say things as they are without bias and without getting emotional. This works wonders in action scenes. Imagine you have to write about a car blowing up. A third person narrator can describe the scene right down to the decibel level of the explosion but if you are writing in first person you have to tackle the issue of the character’s horror or panic for having been witness to such a scene. This might hamper the action scene.
Disadvantages/ Challenges of Using the Third Person Point of View
1. It needs meticulous planning else it can go horribly wrong:
Remember you are dealing with a lot of characters. You have to plan their entry and exit and what is going on in each scene, especially what they are thinking and why they are there. Unlike first person accounts where you get to switch back to the “I” character here you have so much choice as to which character’s trajectory you are going to use to convey the story that there is bound to be some confusion, especially for first-time writers.
2. Planning the Unknown
Plotting has a lot to do with time of revelation of suspense. It becomes difficult and cumbersome when all character motivations are available for the reader to see. First time writers especially have a tendency to write everything about all characters and then realize that there is no mystery left; readers will know why each character did something. This leads to the common “sagging middle syndrome.” Plotting is harder here when there are so many characters to deal with.
Examples of Third Person Narrative
|Narrator’s Degree of Objectivity|
(How much the narrator knows that is undistorted by emotion)
Penetrates the character’s minds and convey and relays thoughts and emotions as well as describes events. Usually the third person subjective narrator is privy to only one character’s emotions.
Example: She walked down a lonely road. There was not a soul in sight. The shops were closed for the day and the streetlights were not working. “God,” she thought, “Please let me make it home safely.” She was terrified. She thought about what she read in the papers about this street and how it was notorious being thronged by armed men after dark.
Remains oblivious to feelings and describes only events that take place
Example: She walked down a lonely road. There was not a soul in sight. The shops were closed for the day and the streetlights were not working. That this street was notorious for being a target for thievery was common knowledge.
|Narrator’s Degree of Omniscience|
(How much the narrator can “see” when it comes to all the characters and key dramatic events in question)
|Third-Person Omniscient Narrators: |
Has complete knowledge about all characters, events, characters’ feelings, thoughts and can penetrate the internal worlds of all the characters.
This form allows complete subjectivity.
Anand wasn’t sure what Bharat and Karthik thought of him. Bharat was indifferent about Anand while Karthik thought Anand was a joke. Poor Anand.
(If you see the narrator knows what is going on the heads of all the three characters).
|Third-Person Limited Narrator |
Privy to only one focal character’s life and includes thoughts.
Anand wasn’t sure what Bharat and Karthik thought of him. He was terrified of their wrath.
(Here it is strictly Anand’s point-of-view)
Note: Degrees of Omniscience and Objectivity are decisions the writer has to make and it can be a combination of both. For instance, 3rd person omniscient narrators can be either subjective (knowing character’s feelings etc) or objective (restricting their narration to dialogue and action)
Either in this post or in our earlier post on first person narrators, if you noticed, we did not recommend which narrator you need to use. That’s because it is a choice you have to make as the author.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Salman Rushdie’s memoir about his fatwa years titled Joseph Anton is written in third person; he is narrating his story referring to himself as “he” rather than “I.” I found this particularly fascinating so yes, there really are no rules!
Are there any more advantages or disadvantages? Do let us know as a comment!