What First Person Point of View Is and When It's the Right Choice
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Point of view is a powerful tool for writers to convey tone and intention to their readers. First person point of view can help writers express their personal convictions or messages, and can help the reader feel closely connected with the writer. Learning about first person point of view can help improve your professional and personal writing skills. In this article, we discuss what first person point of view is in writing, how to use it and how it compares to other points of view.
What is first person point of view in writing?
Writing in the first person point of view uses first person pronouns like "I" or "we" to describe the perspective in the text. It's useful in many types of writing, from novels to professional bios and cover letters. In nonfiction writing like business content or journalism, the "I" refers to the author of the piece. In fiction like novels or poems, the "I" usually refers to a character the author has created.
There are four types of first person pronouns to watch for in first person point of view writing: subjective case, objective case, reflexive case and possessive case. The subjective pronouns are "I" and "we," and are show when the writer or speaker is the subject of the sentence. The objective first person pronouns are "me" and "us," useful when the speaker is the object of the sentence who things happen to. Possessive first person pronouns are "my," "mine," "ours" and "our." Reflexive pronouns are the most rare, and include "ourselves" and "myself."
Related: How To Find Your Voice in Writing
When to use first person point of view
First person is appropriate for a wide variety of audiences and materials. Here are some specific situations where you might use first person:
Resumes and cover letters: In application materials for jobs, grants or schools, you may use first person for content like resumes, cover letters and statements of purpose since these express your personal thoughts, professional or academic history and ideas.
Business communications: Writing in first person is appropriate in many professional emails and some memos when your message comes from you as an individual. You may choose plural first person, like "we" and "us," if you are writing a document that represents your entire team's thoughts or findings.
Autobiographical writing: You may use first person if you're writing autobiographical material like a personal bio, a description of your experiences or a memoir.
Personal communication: When writing emails, personal notes or greeting cards for occasions, it's common to use first person.
Fiction: In short stories or novels, you might use first person to describe events from one character's perspective to show the reader what that character thinks and feels in more detail than other characters.
Poetry: Poets may use first person to create an intimate tone. In poetry, the "I" is a character, whether it's a fictionalized version of the author or an unrelated character.
What's the difference between first, second and third person point of view?
The most important difference between first, second and third person point of view is the text's perspective. Different points of view are also best in separate kinds of texts or settings. Here are some ways points of view differ, and how to recognize each of them:
First person texts use "I" and "we" to describe the thoughts and actions of the person or people who are speaking. Letters, emails and memoirs usually use first person. In professional settings, first person is useful for expressing individual work, personal opinions and ideas, giving feedback and presentations. First person can help create an informal and personal tone, but it can also limit the writer to one perspective.
Example: I try to go skydiving at least once a week.
Second person writing uses "you" without any use of "I" or "we." Second person is usually used to speak specifically to another person or group of people, and can be difficult to identify since the "you" is sometimes implied rather than stated in the sentence. You might see second person point of view used for instructions, on signs or in conversation. In professional settings, second person can also be used for speeches, directions and instructions for procedures.
Example: You can try skydiving if you're brave enough.
Third person uses "she," "he" or "they" to describe others, and doesn't use "I" or "you" except in dialogue. Third person is useful for talking about people who aren't present, so it can be perfect for formal reports, journalistic articles and some novels. In professional settings, third person is useful for official reports, objective narratives or research presentations. It can give a writer the most freedom to include a variety of topics and perspectives.
Example: The current guest enjoys skydiving and surfing, so they brought a lot of sports equipment.
Examples of first person point of view
Here are some examples of how first person point of view may be used in different types of writing:
In a resume summary
First person works well in a resume summary because you're describing your own attributes to potential employers.
Example: I'm an experienced graphic designer with sixteen years of experience working in the digital publication environment, and I'm looking for an infographics-focused position with a leading national magazine.
In a cover letter
A cover letter uses first person to connect with the hiring manager it's addressed to and convey the honest intentions of the candidate. It can be an efficient way to communicate your professional achievements and intentions in similar documents like statements of purpose or essays.
Example: My work managing urban drainage system installation and designing flow diagrams for individual construction projects has prepared me well for the responsibilities listed in the hydraulics engineer position.
In a professional bio
You may use first person when you're writing a professional bio for your personal webpage or social media, a company publication or your listing in a professional network.
Example: I've lived and worked in the tri-state region for 25 years, and the environment here has been a wonderful inspiration for my professional work as an arborist and my personal artwork that reuses fibers from native tree species.
In networking communications
First person can help you create a personal connection as you network at events and through writing. Write all messages, emails and personal letters in first person.
Example: I'm so glad we connected at the recent convention, and I wanted to reach out about the potential partnership between our company and the House for Hope next fall.
In a marketing promotion
Companies may use first person plural with "we" to humanize their brand and build an honest and trustworthy reputation.
Example: Here at Thrive and Abide, we prioritize our customers' comfort for today and forever with our collections of sustainable home linens made from carbon-neutral free-range animal fibers.
In autobiographical writing
First person is best when you're writing about your own history or personal experiences, whether you're writing a speech, presentation, memoir or blog post.
Example: As a first-generation engineering student, paying tuition myself was a financial challenge, so the opportunity to co-op helped me pay my tuition at the same time I was getting real work experience.
In journalistic writing
Journalistic writing may use first person point of view so that the reader can understand the writer's perspective, culture and even reason for writing about this topic.
Example: I spent my childhood in southern California, so I was familiar with some local feelings and prejudices about water management, but they built the dam long after I left.
In entertainment and other media
Many songs and novels use first person perspective to make the reader or listener feel closer to the characters. When writers use first person this way, the "I" is usually a character they have created and not a real person.
Example: "Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known." The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
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