Essays Written In 3rd 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...

Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 3 May, 2017

A personal narrative is a story about an important incident or experience that has taken place in a person’s life. The author shares the experience, thoughts, emotions and sometimes the lessons learned or knowledge gained during the course of the events.

To plan a narrative, decide on the story, recall or construct the setting, facts or events, the people and the emotions involved in the incident or event. A fictional story may draw on emotions from one’s own life injected into similar imagined events to give the narrative authenticity. Making a diagram or notes may help you plan your story.

Narratives are usually written in either the first (‘I’, ‘we’) or third (‘he/she’, ‘they’) person, far less often in second person (‘you’). Third person narratives can sound more formal than those written in the first person. They allow a distance from the main characters not possible when the person involved is telling the story in their own voice. It also gives authors more flexibility, allowing them to change point of view to another character without confusing the reader.

Planning a 3rd person narrative:

  • Decide on an incident or experience as a focal point of the story
  • Who will be the narrator? Do they have a bias or point of view, or are they objective?
  • Who is the main character? You may need an additional one or two other characters.
  • Setting – Where does the story take place?
  • Decide on a plot structure. What are the main events, points along the way, the climax of the story, and its resolution? You may need to brainstorm and/or plot what happens on a graph to keep your story on track.

Structure of 3rd Person Narrative

A narrative text usually contains the following three parts:

  • Orientation – start in the middle of the action, involving the main character from the start.
  • Complication – where conflict, tension or a problem is created.
  • Resolution – the problem is resolved, sometimes with a twist.

 Language

  • 3rd person ‘he’, ‘she’, as though the narrator is watching the event take place.
  • Language will suit both the characters and the setting (time and place).
  • Use language conventions – sentence and paragraph structure, speech marks etc.
  • Your narrative will include action, description, realistic dialogue and reflection (without preaching).
  • Use variety in your writing style: a mixture of short and long sentences, hard-hitting action sequences and longer poetic descriptions, short snatches of dialogue and longer paragraphs which create atmosphere and suspense.
  •  Show don’t tell! Try not to state the obvious; use finesse.

Brainstorm, draft, (if you get stuck, start from whichever point you can), write, let your writing sit a day or two, read aloud to yourself several times, check all of the points above, rewrite.

These websites give you more advice about writing a personal narrative in third person voice:

Personal Narrative Writing

Personal Narrative

Take note of these helpful hints from great writers:

Here is an example of a narrative of a personal incident written in 3rd person voice.

For the length of narratives written at school and for the QCST, it is recommended that the action of the story happens within no more than a ten minute time frame.


Adapted from an original piece by Loretta D.

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