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How to Use Point of View

Point of view is the perspective of the narrator in the work of literature or of the author of an academic text. Points of view are often referred to as the “person” of the author and they describe the relationship between the author and readers. There are 3 persons in English.

 

Person

Singular

Plural

1st

I

we

2nd

you

you

3rd

he/she/it

they

 

First Person

First person is defined by key words such as “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us”. First person is when the narrator is involved in the action in the text.

Academic Writing

  • First person is generally avoided because the reader can assume that the opinions and ideas in the paper are the author’s.
  • Many disciplines, especially the sciences, prefer to avoid first person to maintain focus on the data or procedures being written about.

Always check with your professor about his/her preferences regarding the use of “I” in formal papers and assignments.

 

Literature or Creative Writing

  • First person narrators are not always the author; most of the time they are characters created by the author.
  • A first person narrator may not be reliable because he/she sees or speaks based on what he/she believes to be true. Good readers question whether the narrator is reliable or not.
  • First person can also be used in dialogue between characters.

Second Person

Second person is defined by the use of “you” and speaks directly to the reader.

Academic Writing

  • Second person is generally avoided because it is considered too personal for academic writing and because it’s hard to accurately assume who the person actually reading your paper will be.
  • A few genres do allow for use of second person.
    • The speech, because the audience is actually present
    • Instructions, because they are specifically directed to a reader

Literature or Creative Writing

  • Second person is generally not used, but can be used for the author to speak directly to the reader.
  • Second person can also be used in dialogue between characters.

Third Person

Third person is defined by key words such as “he”, “she”, “they” and “them”. The author in third person is not participating in the text, but is giving information or telling the story from an outside voice.

Academic Writing

  • Third person is preferred in academic writing.
  • In many disciplines, especially the sciences, the author refers to him/herself as “the investigator” or “the author.”
  • To avoid bias, many writers use plural “they/them” instead of he/she. When referring to a generic person like “a student” or “a community member” it is preferable to use “he/she”, rather than just “he.”

Literature or Creative Writing

  • The narrator is not part of the story, but reports on the action in the story.
  • Objective view is a type of third person narrative approach in which the narrator tells the story by only what can be inferred from the characters’ actions and dialogue. The characters’ feelings and thoughts remain undisclosed.
  • Omniscient view is a type of third person narrative in which the narrator knows everything about the characters and can describe their thoughts and feelings.

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