How To Write Academic Essay In Third Person

First vs. third person

Pronouns are a set of words that replace nouns. They can be used to make your work less complicated and less repetitive. Examples of pronouns include:

  • First person: I, we, me, us
  • Second person: you
  • Third person: he, she, it, they, him, her, them

For some assignments, it is appropriate to use the first person. However, for other assignments the third person is preferred. Sometimes a mixture of the first and third person should be used for different purposes. So, check your assignment guidelines for each assignment, as it will differ for different assignment types, different style guides, and different disciplines. If you are unsure, then check with your course coordinator.

First person preference

The first person can be used to make writing more concise when providing personal reflection, stating a position, or outlining the structure of an assignment.

Some disciplines/lecturers allow or encourage the use of first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.). The use of the first person is also recommended/allowed in some style guides. For example, in the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (6th ed.) it is recommended that authors use the first person to avoid ambiguity and anthropomorphism.

How to use the first person

The following examples illustrate some ways you can use the first person in your writing.

Example 1: Structuring an essay

In this essay, I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

I will argue that gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

The essay will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviour.

Example 2: Describing research you conducted

I found that...

We informed participants that...

The authors informed participants that...

Example 3: Describing research you conducted

We compared...

Our comparison of...

The table compared...

Avoiding subjectivity using the first person

Academic training requires students to support the claims they make by providing solid arguments and/or evidence. So, even when the first person is used in academic writing it can, and usually should, still sound objective.

How to sound objective using the first person when making a claim or stating an argument

The following examples illustrate ways to use the first person in your writing while sounding objective (i.e. making it clear that you are not just expressing an unsupported personal view and that you are concerned about facts and/or reasons rather than being influenced by personal feelings or biases).

I will argue that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

I think that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

I feel that assisting developing countries to grow crops, such as tobacco and opium poppies, is not in their best long-term interests.

The evidence I presented above indicates that paying benefits to high school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

In my opinion, paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

I believe that paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

I have presented reasons why educationalists need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

As a teacher, I believe teachers need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

How to use the first person in reflective writing

Reflective writing relies on personal experience, so it is necessary to use the first person.

The following examples illustrate some ways to use the first person in Reflective writing.

I found this experience positive...

I witnessed...

I succeeded in...

I achieved my goal...

I could have reacted differently in this situation...

Third person preference

Some disciplines/lecturers discourage the use of the first or second person ('I', 'we', 'you', etc.) and prefer the use of the third person because it makes writing sound objective.

How to avoid the first person

The following examples illustrate ways to write without using the first person.

Example 1: Structuring the essay

How gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours will be examined.

Careful examination of gender and ethnicity factors shows how these affect buying behaviour.

In this essay, I will examine how gender and ethnicity factors affect buying behaviours.

Example 2: Making a claim or stating an argument

Assisting developing countries to grow crops such as tobacco and opium poppies is not in their best long-term interests.

I think that assisting developing countries to grow crops such as tobacco and opium poppies is not in their best long-term interests.

Example 3: Making a claim or stating an argument

Paying benefits to high school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

In my opinion, paying benefits to high-school students encourages them to stay at school when they would be better off in paid employment.

Example 4: Making a claim or stating an argument

Educationalists need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

As a teacher, I believe teachers need training in observing pupil behaviour to pick up on unexpressed needs.

Example 5: Describing research you conducted

It was found that...

Participants in this study were informed that...

We informed participants that...

I found that...

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Last updated on 3 May, 2017

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.

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