Although there are three narratives you can use in any form of writing when it comes to your papers and anything academic you produce, it’s best to choose the third-person. It’s pretty simple with a bit of practice, but if you’re completely new to this writing style, here’s what you need to know about how to write in third-person.
What does writing in third-person mean?
Writing in third-person is one of the three styles you can use when describing a point of view. Even though you might not know it, chances are you’ve used first, second and third person in writing projects throughout your education.
It’s a narrative where you’re totally independent of the subject you’re analyzing and writing about. You don’t take sides. You don’t try to influence what readers feel. It’s a completely unbiased, objective way of writing that tells a story or dissects a topic right down the middle.
There’s a lot of information out there about how you can differentiate between the three in roundabout ways, making it unnecessarily complicated. Here’s a quick breakdown to understand the differences for when you write your following paper:
This is from the I/we perspective. It’s where we talk about us, ourselves, and our opinions. If we go down the first-person route, writing will include pronouns like I, me, myself, and mine.
This point of view belongs to the person you’re addressing — so its a you perspective. In your writing, you’d use second-person pronouns such as you, your, and yourselves.
The third-person point of view is aimed at the person or people being talked about, which is the type of writing you’d find in stories. In this perspective, you’d use pronouns like he, she, him, her, his, hers, himself, herself, it, them, their, and themselves. Or, you’d use a name. But that tends to happen more in stories than research papers.
Notice the difference between the three?
When to write in third-person
The third-person point of view tells the reader a story and it’s often the go-to when you’re taking an authoritative stance in your papers, which is why it’s so common in academic writing.
So, always choose the third-person stance when writing academic copy, such as essays and research papers.
The reason for this is it’ll make your papers less personal and more objective, meaning the objectivity will make you come across as more credible and less biased. Ultimately, this will help your grades as the third-person view keeps you focused on evidence and facts instead of your opinion.
You can break third-person perspectives into three other types, including omniscient, limited, and objective. Although they’re more associated with creative writing than academic work and essays, your writing is likely to fall under the third-person objective point of view.
A third-person objective point of view is about being neutral and presenting your findings and research in an observational way, rather than influencing the reader with your opinions.
How to use the third-person point of view
Rule number one: Never refer to yourself in your essay in the third-person. That’s a no-no.
For instance, here’s how you shouldn’t write a sentence in your essay if you’re writing about virtual learning as an example.
“I feel like students perform better at home because they have more freedom and are more comfortable.”
It’s a simple sentence, but there’s a lot wrong with it when you’re talking about research papers and adopting a third-person narrative. Why? Because you’re using first-person pronouns and, as it sounds like an opinion, you can’t back up your claims with a stat or any credible research. There’s no substance to it whatsoever.
Also, it isn’t very assertive. The person marking your work won’t be impressed by “I feel like,” because it shows no authority and highlights that it came from your brain and not anywhere of note.
By including terms like “I think” or “I feel” like in the example above, you’re already off to a bad start.
But when you switch that example to the third-person point of view, you can cite your sources, which is precisely what you need to do in your essays and research papers to achieve higher grades.
Let’s switch that sentence up and expand it using the third-person point of view:
“A psychological study from Karrie Goodwin shows that students thrive in virtual classrooms as it offers flexibility. They can make their own hours and take regular breaks. Another study from high school teacher, Ashlee Trip, highlighted that children enjoy freedom, the ability to work at their own pace and decide what their day will look like.”
With a third-person narrative, you can present evidence to the reader and back up the claims you make. So, it not only shows what you know, but it also shows you took the time to research and strengthen your paper with credible resources and facts — not just opinions.
6 tips for writing in third-person
1. Understand your voice won’t always shine in your essays
Every single piece of writing tends to have a voice or point of view as if you’re speaking to the reader directly. However, that can’t always happen in academic writing as it’s objective compared to a novel, for example. Don’t try to ‘fluff’ up your piece to try and cram your personality in, as your academic work doesn’t need it.
2. Don’t focus on yourself or the reader — focus on the text
An academic piece of work always has a formal tone as it’s objective. When you write your next paper, focus on the writing itself rather than the writer or the reader.
3. Coach yourself out of using first-person pronouns
This is easier said than done if all you’ve ever done is first- or second-person writing. When you write your next paper, scan through it to see if you’ve written anything in first-person and replace it with the third-person narrative.
Here are a few regular offenders that pop up in academic papers — along with how you can switch the statements to third-person:
- I argue should be this essay argues
- I found that should be it was found that
- We researched should be the group researched
- I will also analyze should be topic X will also be analyzed
The same applies to second-person, as there are plenty of cases where it tends to slip through in academic writing. Again, it’s pretty straightforward to switch the more you practice. For instance:
- Your paper will be marked higher if you use a citation tool should be the use of a citation tool will improve one’s grades
4. Be as specific as possible
This is where things can get a little bit confusing. Writing in third-person is all about including pronouns like he, she, it, and they. However, using them towards the beginning of sentences can be pretty vague and might even confuse the reader — this is the last thing you want from your essay or paper.
Instead, try using nouns towards the beginning of sentences. For example, use the actual subject, such as the interviewer or the writer, rather than he, she, or they when you begin the sentence.
The same applies to terms like it. Start the sentence with the ‘it’ is that you’re describing. If it’s a citation tool, begin the sentence by referencing what you’re discussing, so you aren’t vague. Clarity is key.
5. Write in the present tense when using third-person
In any form of academic writing, you need to write your reports, essays, and research papers in the present tense, especially when introducing different subjects or findings.
So, rather than saying “This paper analyzed” (which does seem correct as technically that part was in the past and the writing is in the present), you should write “This report analyzes” — as if you’re analyzing right here and now.
However, the difference is when you highlight how you did the research, that should be in the past tense. This means you’d use third-person phrases like “The equipment that was used” or “The results were analyzed by”, for instance.
6. Avoid adding your own thoughts
If your report is on a subject that’s close to your heart, it can be super tempting to sprinkle in your own thoughts. It’s a challenge, but you need to coach yourself out of it.
In academic writing, you aren’t a commentator. You’re a reporter. You need to let readers draw their conclusions without over-analyzing them or making the reader lean one way or another.
The easiest way to get to grips with writing your academic papers in the third-person is to be consistent and practice often. Criticize your work and analyze it until it becomes the norm. Yes, it can be a little complex in the early days, but before you know it, you’d have mastered the technique, helping you take your papers and reports up a level.
Frequently Asked Questions about writing in third-person
🏇 What words can you use in third person?
In third-person, you’d use pronouns like he, she, him, her, his, hers, himself, herself, it, them, their, and themselves. Or, you’d use a name.
🐶 Can you say 'you' in third person?
You is used in second person and is therefore not used in third person. The second person is used for the person that is being addressed.
🥐 How do your write in third-person view?
The third-person point of view is aimed at the person or people being talked about, which is the type of writing you’d find in stories. When writing in third-person view, make sure to write in the present tense and avoid adding your own thoughts.
🚛 Can you write in third person present?
When writing in third person, you should actually always write in the present tense since you are mostly presenting results in this view.
👁️ What is an example of second-person?
The second person point of view belongs to the person you’re addressing — so its a you perspective. In your writing, you’d use second-person pronouns such as you, your, and yourselves.