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Welcome to Writing Commons, the open-education home for writers. Writing Commons helps students improve their writing, critical thinking, and information literacy. Founded in 2008 by Joseph M. Moxley, Writing Commons is a viable alternative to expensive writing textbooks. Faculty may assign Writing Commons for their composition, business, STEM/Technical Writing, and creative writing courses. 

Writing Commons houses ten main sections: Academic Writing | Rhetoric | Information Literacy | Evidence & Documentation | Research Methods & Methodologies | Style | New Media Communication | Professional & Technical Communication | Creative Writing | Reviews

The two best ways to navigate through Writing Commons are using the top menu navigation, under Chapters, or use the site search field to the right of the menu.

Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote or paraphrase?

Although quotations or paraphrased material from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and to support a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer.

Credible evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but source material should not overshadow the writer’s voice.

Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote?*

Though quotations from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and support to a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer. Credentialed evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but not at the expense of diluting the writer’s voice with overdependence on quotations.

Writers must determine which point of view they want to use in a particular piece of writing. They can choose between first person ("I," "we"), second person ("you"), and third person ("one," "he," "she," "they"). Sometimes the point of view will shift in a piece of writing, but most of the time writers must stay consistent, using one point of view throughout their text. So how do writers know which point of view to use? Read the articles below to find out. 

Although there are occasions when a shift in point of view is appropriate, unnecessary and inconsistent shifts—especially within a sentence—are distracting to the reader and can cause a confusing change in perspective.

How can you correct an unnecessary shift in point of view?

  • In a passage where an unnecessary shift has been noted, go through and highlight each of the point of view words.
  • Change the point of view of the inconsistent pronouns to align them with the primary point of view that has already been established.

The first person—“I,” “me,” “my,” etc.—can be a useful and stylish choice in academic writing, but inexperienced writers need to take care when using it.

There are some genres and assignments for which the first person is natural. For example, personal narratives require frequent use of the first person (see, for example, "Employing Narrative in an Essay). Profiles, or brief and entertaining looks at prominent people and events, frequently employ the first person. Reviews, such as for movies or restaurants, often utilize the first person as well. Any writing genre that involves the writer’s taste, recollections, or feelings can potentially utilize the first person.

Understand when the first person is preferable to second or third person.

"Do not use the first person" is perhaps the most unfortunate writing myth that handicaps inexperienced writers. After all, how can we think without using our experience? Why must we drive a stake through our cerebral cortex before writing? Can we logically assume that we are more objective thinkers when we avoid the first person?

Many times, high school students are told not to use first person (“I,” “we,” “my,” “us,” and so forth) in their essays. As a college student, you should realize that this is a rule that can and should be broken—at the right time, of course.

By now, you’ve probably written a personal essay, memoir, or narrative that used first person. After all, how could you write a personal essay about yourself, for instance, without using the dreaded “I” word?

Look at the following lines and determine how you might revise them so that they remove the pronoun “you” or define the pronoun “we”:

  • You can understand what it’s like to have a stack of papers to grade and only two days to do it.
  • We now know that cigarettes can cause various types of cancer.
  • I would like you to understand that not all students are lazy.
  • We believe that gay marriage is not immoral or harmful to the American family; as such, we argue that it should be legalized.
  • Doughnuts are really harmful to our health, so we should stop ingesting them.

When is first person point of view used?

First person point of view is often used in personal narrative—when the writer is telling a story or relating an experience. This perspective is writer’s point of view, and the writer becomes the focal point. First person personal pronouns include I, we, me, us, my, mine, our, and ours.

Examples of sentences written from the first person point of view:

  • I was only seven years old when my family moved to the United States.
  • We took a vacation that allowed us to explore our nation from east to west and north to south.

The Beginning of Your Journey

You are writing for a class.  You realize that you have no idea what point-of-view is appropriate for this piece of writing.  You quickly text a friend but discover that she does not know.  Your teacher is currently teaching subject/verb agreement to a nest of talking dragons and is not available.  Desperate for help, you head into the forest to the fabled Point-of-View Castle. Dodging past giant spiders, enormous werewolves, and cute little pixies (who are surely up to no good), you arrive at the castle to discover that you can choose from one of three bridges across a moat filled with ravenous alligators. On each bridge stands a wizard who wants to talk to you.  All three wear long, flowing robes and have the required gray beards and mystical staffs of power. Each robe has a word written on it. What do you do?

When is second person point of view used?

Second person point of view is often used for giving directions, offering advice, or providing an explanation. This perspective allows the writer to make a connection with his or her audience by focusing on the reader. Second person personal pronouns include youyour, and yours.

Examples of sentences written from the second person point of view:

  • You should put your cell phone in the trunk if you want to resist the temptation to use it while you are driving.
  • When you write an academic paper, keep in mind that the appearance of your paper can make a positive or negative impression on your reader.

When is third-person point of view used?

Third person is used when a degree of objectivity is intended, and it is often used in academic documents, such as research and argument papers. This perspective directs the reader’s attention to the subject being presented and discussed. Third person personal pronouns include he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs.

For many novice academic writers, the decision of whether to use first-person or third-person voice is determined by several factors. First and third-person refers to the point of view the author adopts, where first-person uses the singular and plural pronouns “I,” “we,” “me,” and “us,” as in “I argue that,” and third-person uses “she,” “he,” “it,” or “they.” Often times, academic writers will identify the subject in the third-person, as in “Stone argues that,” or “The researchers suggest.”

"As luck would have it, at the drop of a hat I was at my wits’ end."

What does this sentence say? Anything? Nothing? Nothing new—this sentence contains three clichés strung together. Just as you want to avoid archaic and discipline-specific language (jargon), you also want to avoid incorporating overused phrases (cliches) into your writing.

Granted, all language is reused. Unless you’re making up words, the words we use have been used before. But the wonderful thing about language is that by combining words in new ways and by giving them different contexts, you can construct a new and compelling message.

Have you ever read the first few sentences of a scholarly article and been so annoyed by the denseness of the writing? Take this line for example: “On the contrary, I proffer that the ontological necessity to determine the nature of dwelling resides within the viewer.” What does this mean? I have no idea, either. That’s because I’m not a philosopher, and “ontological” is a term that is not used very often outside of philosophical endeavors.

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing is clarity. You’re writing to communicate a message, yes? Don’t you want your message to be received? Well, writing with obscure or group-specific language will often muddle your point. Use words with which you’re familiar—and, more importantly, words with which your audience will be familiar.

An archaism refers to an out-of-style word or phrase, such as “whilst,” “thusly,” or “thou.” When cultivating your own personal writing style, it’s important that you avoid sounding artificial. And one surefire way to sound artificial is to produce stilted writing by loading your paper with old theatrical-sounding words. Here are some archaisms commonly found in student writing (ones to avoid):

  • Thusly: You can use “thus” in writing, but be careful not to overuse it. Constantly repeating the word “thus” can make your writing sound unnatural. Try varying your transitional language by incorporating phrases like “as such,” “as a result,” or “in effect.” “Thusly,” however, should never be used. When have you ever heard that word used in modern-day society?

When writing an original paper, you want to ensure that your voice takes center stage. The reader should hear your voice, not the voice of a distinguished professor and not the voice of your best friend. While you want to avoid being overly conversational in most academic writing, you certainly want your voice to be driving the paper. After all, the reader wants to hear you! This section addresses the common mistakes that can cause writers to lose their voice in an essay. By reading about archaisms, jargon, and cliches, you can develop a sense of the types of rhetorical choices that distance readers.

Why should figurative language be used in engaging writing?

Figurative language makes a comparison that is not meant to be read literally; instead, figures of speech are intended to create a connection or highlight a significant part of a discussion. Certain literary devices—such as similes, metaphors, and personification—can help create word pictures for the reader. When persuasive writers use figurative language, they are more likely to engage their readers and make their argument more relevant and convincing.

You tend to use less explicit descriptions (such as clichés, qualifiers, wordy constructions, overuse of prepositional phrases, vague constructions). How might your discussion be more precise and engaging? How might your revise this sentence to make it clearer, more active, more convincing, and more connected to other sentences or ideas?

These questions touch on one of the foundations of effective writing—clarity. Excessive wordiness (often caused by passive constructions) can confuse readers and require them to spend more time trying to understand your sentences rather than your ideas.

How might you engage your reader by incorporating more figurative language (anecdote, narrative, simile, metaphor, dialogue, personification and such)? How might you offer more valid comparisons using these techniques?

“All the world’s a stage”—have you ever wondered why people remember and quote lines from Shakespeare so much? One of the reasons is because he used figurative language very effectively in his writings. You may have heard the term “figurative language” before, and perhaps when you heard it you were in a class analyzing novels or poetry. But figurative language is not just used in literature: you can employ it in your essay writing to great effect. Figurative language adds color to your writing by taking your words and applying them to other, often unexpected, objects or concepts.

Why should unnecessary words and phrases be eliminated?

Unnecessary words and phrases result in redundancy. A writer can achieve efficiency in writing by using concise words and phrases that denote clear meaning. Each word should contribute to the argument and purpose of an assignment; if a word or phrase can be removed from a sentence without affecting its meaning, it should be eliminated.