Writing Essays with a Consistent Point of View

Instructor: Tara Turzi
Writers often struggle with shifting point of view in their writing. This lesson will show you how to select an appropriate point of view and use it consistently throughout an essay.

Consistency in Point of View

When you are in elementary school, and even high school, you are often told to write about yourself, or to write what you know. You spend quite a bit of time writing first person narratives, or the stories of your life. At some point, particularly in high school and college, you are asked to make a shift to more formal writing. One of the biggest challenges to this shift is using consistent point of view. In this lesson, you will learn about the different points of view, and how to use them consistently throughout an essay.

Three Points of View

There are three major points of view that you can use in your writing. First person point of view uses first person pronouns such as I, me, we, us, our, my, and myself. When you write in first person point of view, you are writing about yourself, or injecting yourself into the writing.

Second person point of view uses second person pronouns such as you, your, and yourself. This point of view is directed at the reader. It is more conversational, and is being used in this very lesson!

Third person point of view does not use first or second person pronouns. Instead, it uses third person pronouns such as he, she, it, and they. It focuses on the subject of the essay, rather than the writer or the reader.

Choosing a Point of View

The best way to choose a point of view is to assess the writing situation. Have you been asked to write a personal narrative? If so, it would be appropriate to use first person point of view because you are writing about yourself. Have you been asked to write a blog? If so, you might use second person point of view, because blog writers often directly address their readers. Have you been asked to write a formal research essay? If so, then it would be inappropriate to use first or second person point of view. Instead, you would want to use third person point of view. Whatever the writing situation, it's important to know the appropriate point of view, and use it consistently throughout.

Using Consistent Point of View

It's important to use consistent point of view throughout an essay to give your essay focus and clarity. It also helps to show the purpose of your essay. When a writer shifts point of view, it can be jarring and even confusing to the reader.

When you select first person point of view, it is often because the essay is about you or your personal experiences. In this type of essay, you will want to write about yourself, freely using first person point of view throughout. Avoid shifting into second person point of view, which addresses the reader. You also don't want to shift into third person point of view, where you write about yourself as if you are a narrator.

Using second person point of view is really only appropriate in specialized situations, such as writing a blog or a business communication like letters, emails, and memos. Consider second person point of view the same as having a conversation with the reader. It should be avoided in formal academic essays.

Third person point of view is the most formal of the three, and should be used in most formal academic writing situations such as persuasive and expository essays. Remember that third person point of view focuses on the subject of the essay, not the writer or the reader.

It can be difficult to stay consistent throughout a piece, and writers will often shift in and out of points of view. Once you know which point of view is appropriate for the writing situation, it's important to be consistent. Ask yourself the following questions: 'Is this piece about me? Is this piece informal enough to address the reader? Is this a formal piece?' The answers to these questions will help you to stay consistent throughout.

When you are writing a formal piece, remember to write about the subject, not yourself or the reader. When you revise that piece, be sure to check for personal pronouns like 'I, me, we, us, you, and your.' If you find a personal pronoun, reword the sentence so that it focuses on the subject, not the writer or the reader.

When you discover shifts in tense in your document, rewording the sentence can be challenging. If you shift into second person, for example, you have begun to address your reader in a situation that may not call for it. It's important to shift your point of view back so that you are writing about the subject matter, not the reader.

Here's an example: When you look up at the night sky, you will see the constellation Cassiopeia located directly across from the big dipper.

To fix this, remove the second person pronoun 'you,' and make the constellations the subject of the sentence. Here it is in third person point of view: Cassiopeia is located directly across from the big dipper in the night sky.

This eliminates the second person point of view and shifts the focus to the subject, rather than the reader.

Challenges

One area where writers are often challenged is eliminating first person point of view from a formal opinion piece, such as a persuasive research essay. You might be thinking, how am I supposed to state my opinion without using the words 'I' or 'my'? It is important to recognize that because your name is on the essay, it is assumed these are your beliefs and opinions. You don't need to reiterate that in your writing. You can simply state your opinion directly, without using first person point of view.

For example, imagine you want to make the following statement in your formal persuasive essay: 'It is my belief that the childhood obesity epidemic is due to the lack of healthy options in schools.' Rather than include yourself in the statement, you can drop 'It is my belief that' and directly state, 'The childhood obesity epidemic is due to the lack of healthy options in schools.' In a strong persuasive essay, you are going to back this statement up with evidence and research, so it is okay to state this opinion directly.

This is often a challenge of confidence. Don't feel you need to qualify your opinions by injecting first person into your writing. State these ideas directly with confidence, and be sure to support them with sound evidence from research.

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