Q. What is writing in the third-person or first-person? When do I use them and when not?
The first-person voice is from the writer's perspective and shares emotion, thought processes, personal experiences, and reflection. First-person writing uses pronouns such as I and me.
Example sentence in first person:
- Fifteen years in the restaurant business tells me that, after food quality, success is all about location.
The third-person voice is objective writing that is designed "to present information or communicate ideas without obvious bias or emotion" (McWhorter, 2012, p. 280). The author's personal perspective is removed, and therefore points and ideas made in the writing need to be more carefully defined and supported with evidence or proof.
Example sentences in third person:
- New restaurateurs frequently underestimate the importance of location to the success of their business. According to one restaurant owner, "having the right location can either make or break your restaurant" (10 restaurant mistakes, 2008, para. 4) while another says "no restaurant succeeds without...a great location" (Haden, 2012, para. 8).
The second-person voice makes use of the personal pronoun you and should be avoided in formal and academic writing.
In a nutshell:
The writing you do in college and in your professional life will be "less about yourself and more about ideas...less writing is done in the first person (I, me) and much more is done in the third person (it, they, he, she). When given a writing assignment, make sure it is clear how much of your personal experience and personal opinion, if any, is appropriate for the assignment" (McWhorter, 2012, p. 24).
How do you know if first person or third person is appropriate?
- Consider the issue you are writing about
- Consider the purpose of your writing
- Consider your audience
- Ask your instructor if you are in doubt!
APA and First/Third Person
Does APA have anything to say about first-person or third-person? Yes, in a roundabout way. See section 3.18 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association for more information.
APA asks writers to use active voice rather than passive voice. This means that first-person writing is allowed in APA papers when the writers are sharing how they set up their research methodology (conducted interviews, tested hypotheses, etc.).
Yes (active): We conducted our interviews in Marathon County.
No (passive): The interviews were conducted in Marathon County.
It also means that third-person is preferred when authors should be objective, as in a literature review or when sharing background information and supporting evidence.
Third-person voice is preferred for most student research papers.
Haden, J. (2012, Jan. 23). Start a killer restaurant: 6 tips. Inc.
McWhorter, K. T. (2012). Successful college writing. Bedford/St. Martin's.
10 restaurant startup mistakes [Blog post]. (2008). Restaurant Blogger.