Writing in the third person can be easy after a little practice. For academic purposes, writing in the third person means that the author must avoid the use of subjective pronouns, such as “I” or “you.” For creative purposes, there are certain differences between omniscient, equiscient (or limited), objective (or deficient), and multiperspectivist third-person point of view. Choose the one that best suits your writing project.
Writing in the third person for academic purposes
1. Use the third person for all academic writing. For formal works, such as research or argumentative, use this type of narrator. The third person creates a more objective and less personal tone. For academic and professional works, such objectivity makes the author appear less biased, and therefore more credible.
- Third person helps keep you focused on facts and evidence, not personal opinions.
2. Use the correct pronouns. When the third person is used, people are referred to “from outside”. You can refer to someone by their name or with a third person pronoun.
- The pronouns in the third person are: he, she, he, I get, him, it, the; they, they, they, the, the.
- Proper nouns are also considered appropriate for use by the third-person narrator.
- For example: “Ramirez does not think the same. According to his research, the previous statements on the subject are incorrect.”
3. Avoid pronouns in the first person. The first person refers to the point of view in which the writer expresses himself from his personal perspective. This point of view creates an overly personal and biased tone. You should avoid using the first person in an academic essay.
- The pronouns in the first person are: I, me, me, with me; us, us, us.
- The problem with the first person is that, academically speaking, it sounds too personalized and subjective. In other words, it may be difficult to convince the reader that the views and ideas expressed are unbiased and non-personal. Many times, when using the first person in academic works, phrases like these are used: “It seems to me”, “I consider” or “In my opinion”.
- Incorrect example: “Although Ramirez thinks that way, it seems to me that his argument is incorrect.”
- Correct example: “Even though Ramirez thinks that way, others in the field disagree.”
4. Avoid pronouns in the second person. The second person refers to the point of view that is addressed directly to the reader. This point of view creates a tone of too much familiarity with the reader, since he is spoken to directly, as if he were known. You should never use the second person in academic papers.
- The pronouns in the second person are: you, you, you, you, you with you; you know.
- A big disadvantage of the second person is that it can sound accusatory. There is a risk of putting too much responsibility on the shoulders of the reader who is specifically reading the text.
- Incorrect example: “If you disagree today, then it must be because you don’t know the facts.”
- Correct example: “Someone who still disagrees today must be because they don’t know the facts.”
5. Refer to the subject in general terms. Sometimes the writer has to refer to someone in indeterminate terms. In other words, you have to refer to or talk about a person in general terms. This is when the temptation to fall into the use of the second person “you” comes into play. In this case, the correct thing will be the use of a pronoun or noun in the third person.
- The indefinite third person nouns that are often used in academic works are: the writer, the reader, the people, the students, a student, an instructor, people, a person, a woman, a man, a child, the researchers, scientists, writers, experts.
- Example: “Despite the challenges involved, the researchers still insisted on the certainty of their claims.”
- The third person indefinite pronouns are: one, some, all, someone, none, other, each, nobody, anyone.
- Incorrect example: “You might be tempted to agree without all the facts.”
- Correct example: “One might be tempted to agree without all the facts.”
6. Be careful about using singular and plural pronouns at the same time. One of the mistakes writers make when using the third person is accidentally switching to a plural pronoun when the subject is meant to be singular.
- In Spanish, this mistake is made in an attempt to avoid “feminizing” a generic noun such as “gente” or “mayoria” if it is referred to as “ella” or “esta”. The mistake here is to use the pronoun “they” instead.
- Incorrect example: “People wanted to offer their anonymous testimony. They were afraid they would be hurt if their identities were made public.”
- Correct example: “People wanted to offer their anonymous testimony. They were afraid that their identity would be hurt if their identity was made public” (since the subject can be omitted in Spanish, it is perfectly acceptable to omit the demonstrative pronoun in this case).