Most academic writing requires the use of third-person language. Rather than first-person words like I and we and the second-person term, you, third-person point of view uses pronouns such as he, she and they and nouns like students and researchers to indicate speakers and those being addressed. This formal tone requires rewording ideas in some cases, particularly when writing a narrative or presenting personal research.
Why Use Third Person?
Third-person language is more precise than first or second person. For instance, "You perform better after a good night's sleep" uses the second-person point of view, even though the idea may not apply to each reader. "Students perform better after a good night's sleep" creates more specific information, where the word "students" is an example or third-person usage. Academic writing relies on support for credibility, and third-person language presents evidence in the most straightforward way, lending integrity to the entire paper. Shifts in point of view can also be confusing for readers, making your ideas more difficult to follow.
Create a Character
When writing a personal narrative -- a story about an event that happened to you -- you can write in third person by using your first name or inventing a name rather than using first-person pronouns like I, me, we and us.
Although most instructors allow students to use first person in such essays, the use of a name like Charles -- which is a third-person usage -- lets you present your story without using first person; write as if someone else experienced the situation. This replacement also works when you want to use a personal experience within a research or other formal essay as an introductory hook or for support.
Focus on the Research
When writing a paper presenting your own research, the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition allows for first person, but you may find instructors or publications requiring the use of third person. Writing about the process and results rather than your preparation or reaction creates more natural third-person language. For instance, instead of writing, "I selected 50 surveys at random and determined most students agreed with the policy," write, "Fifty randomly pulled surveys revealed that most students agreed with the policy."
Rephrase Sentences Completely
Revise so that you eliminate the need for pronouns entirely in your sentences, creating the succinct language more appropriate for formal writing. For example, as explained by The Lincoln University, the sentence, "The researcher's method required that students explain their survey answers if they choose 'unsatisfied'," could be more effectively written in the third person as, "Respondents needed to explain survey answers if selecting 'unsatisfied.' " Phrases like "this writer" create awkward language.