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First, second or third person: which is best for blogging?

Approx. reading time: 4 minutes

First Person

For me writing is a largely instinctive activity and I don’t often ruminate over which personal pronoun I should use when blogging.

Second Person

Want to know which perspective to use when writing a blog? Then keep reading. This post will explore the various options and help you decide which is best.

Third Person

Bloggers often struggle to know which perspective to apply to their posts. Should they use the first person of paragraph one? The second in paragraph two? Or, like this paragraph, the third?

And I know what you’re thinking, maybe you could use all three in the same paragraph because some writers do just that and seem to get away with it!

The first person (me) puts the writer centre stage. The second puts the reader (you) in the spotlight. And the third views things from an audience’s point of view (he, she, they) – way up in the cheap seats at the back of the auditorium if you like.

So which is the best? Sadly there’s no simple answer. All three have their place. It depends on a number of variables: who you are; why you’re blogging (your purpose); who’s reading (your target audience) and so on.  But what follows is some basic guidance drawn together after I delivered  ACM Training’s blogging workshop to a group of enthusiastic but reflective academics at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.

Like most academics they are used to writing in the third person because of the commonly and firmly held view that this way is somehow more objective. (I say somehow because I’m not sure that it genuinely is only that it gives the impression of being so, but that’s a discussion for another day). So changing their perspective from third to second seemed, for them, like a huge step. From third to first a giant leap. And one that, because they’re academics, they needed plenty of empirical evidence to take.

When to use first person

The person you know best is you. So writing about yourself ought to be easy. And for some people it is. Too easy in fact. And they end up over-disclosing. Telling us all sorts of things that, frankly, are of no interest to us at all.

But some of you will find writing about yourself really difficult. Perhaps you’re naturally shy. Or, like my academics, so used to writing about other people that writing about number one seems uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t though. As a blogger the most important thing is that you engage your readers – hook them in the first place and then keep them reading, ideally to the end. And if writing about your own experience is the stuff that is most likely to engage your audience then do so. Get out of your comfort zone.

Let me give you an example. An academic had written a blog post about the Notting Hill Carnival and a controversial proposal to change it from processional to a fixed location. It was, by her own admission, a little dry and read more like a press release or the abstract of a learned paper. All because it was written in the third person. Talking through her own experience of the carnival it turns out that she attended her first as an unborn child. Write about that I implored her. Let rip with your imagination. Take us there. Have us listen to the beat of your mother’s heart in utero overlaid with the pulsating rhythm of steel drums.

When your experience is relevant and interesting it can lift your copy from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Try it.

The first person approach is also good when readers are coming to your blog principally because of you (and not only for what you’re offering them). As a keen cyclist I might, for example, follow Chris Froome’s thoughts on Twitter (a micro blog) not to read his detached and aloof views on cycling but to get first person insight into his life in the saddle.

When to use second person

But if people are visiting your blog mainly because of what you’re offering them (and who you are is largely irrelevant) then focusing on their needs via the second person perspective is probably the best approach. I find myself using the second person most often for instructional blogs and think of it this way: what does the reader really want? Me or the advice I’m offering them? If the answer is them then that’s what I’ll concentrate on. That’s where the value is. And my stock rises (hopefully) not because of who I am but because of how I’ve helped.

As Brian Clarke of Copyblogger put it “…if you’re blogging for marketing or public relations purposes, your every post should be purposefully aimed at the needs and wants of others. You only benefit when readers benefit first.”

When to use third person

Writing in the third person puts some “distance” between you as the writer and the events or people you’re writing about. It’s the preferred position in academic writing because, as already touched on, is or appears to be more objective. So if that’s what you’re after in your blog use the third person. But that sense of detachment can also appear aloof. The reader may be frustrated by this and wish you’d come off the proverbial fence. Again the guiding question should be this: is my detachment helping me achieve my purpose? If the answer is yes then stay detached. But if your aloofness is hindering then don’t.

In all forms of writing engaging readers and keeping them engaged is crucial. Whilst the words engaged and detached aren’t exact antonyms (engaged and disengaged would be) being engaging in a detached way is a hard trick to execute. Good academic writers are frequently pulling this particular white rabbit out of the hat. Bad ones send us to sleep.

When to mix and match

In reality very few posts are written strictly from only one perspective. We (first person plural) tend to use them in combination. You (second person singular) might even find them all together in the same paragraph. But never in the same sentence. That’s a recipe for confusion:

“I signed up for Richard’s blogging course and by the end of the day you have to write at least one blog but they didn’t insist in it being written from one particular perspective.”

Let me know what you think. Comments welcome. And if you author or read a great blog written from the first, second or third person link to it below. This person would love to see it!

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