A guide on first-person and third-person points of view, the differences between the using third person in essays, and when to use one point-of-view over the other. People approach essay writing in so many different ways.
Some spend a long time worrying about how to set about writing an informative piece, which will educate, or even entertain, the readers. Choosing between the two has confused more than a few essay-writing people. Sure, it can be easy to fill the piece up with healthy chunks of information and content, but it takes a deeper understanding of both points of view to be able to avoid slipping in and out one or the other – or at least realize it when it happens. Sure, a Jekyll and Hyde way of writing may be clever, but it can be very confusing in non-fiction forms, like the essay. Why is all this important? Continually swapping from the first-person to the third-person POV may leave the reader confused.
Who exactly is talking here? Why does one part of the essay sound so detached and unaffected, while the next suddenly appears to be intimate and personal? Indeed, making the mistake of using both points of view – without realizing it – leaves readers with the impression of the essay being haphazardly written. The use of the first-person narration in an essay means that the author is writing exclusively from his or her point of view – no one else’s. The story or the information will thus be told from the perspective of “I,” and “We,” with words like “me,” “us,” “my,” “mine,” “our,” and “ours” often found throughout the essay.
Example: “I first heard about this coastal island two years ago, when the newspapers reported the worst oil spill in recent history. To me, the story had the impact of a footnote – evidence of my urban snobbishness. You will see from the above example that the writer, while not exactly talking about himself or herself, uses the first-person point of view to share information about a certain coastal island, and a certain oil spill. This then allows readers to be part of the narrator’s world and identify with the viewpoint character. This is why the first-person point of view is a natural choice for memoirs, autobiographical pieces, personal experience essays, and other forms of non-fiction in which the author serves also as a character in the story. The first-person POV does have certain limitations. First and most obvious is the fact that the author is limited to a single point of view, which can be narrow, restrictive, and awkward.
Less careful or inexperienced writers using first-person may also fall to the temptation of making themselves the focal subject – even the sole subject – of the essay, even in cases that demand focus and information on other subjects, characters, or events. The third-person point of view, meanwhile, is another flexible narrative device used in essays and other forms of non-fiction wherein the author is not a character within the story, serving only as an unspecified, uninvolved, and unnamed narrator conveying information throughout the essay. Example: “Local residents of the coastal island province suffered an ecological disaster in 2006, in the form of an oil spill that was reported by national newspapers to be worst in the country’s history. Cleaning up took two years, after which they were finally able to go back to advertising their island’s beach sands as ‘pure’ and its soil, ‘fertile. Obviously, the use of the third-person point of view here makes the essay sound more factual – and not just a personal collection of the author’s own ideas, opinions, and thoughts. It also lends the piece a more professional and less casual tone.