- a stylistic choice–i.e., choice based on the rhetor’s desired Rhetorical Stance.
- defined by genre.
- Genres tend to have very specific guidelines for point of view.
- defined by the rhetorical situation, especially the intended discourse community/community of practice.
- In academic writing, e.g., writers are generally expected to use 3rd-person most of the time, with the occasional exception for 1st person if it is necessary. Using 2nd person is discouraged.
Choosing the most effective point of view can be tricky. Judgments of effectiveness are always a matter of context and purpose. Any time you use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person point of view, you should
- know your reason for doing so, and
- consider whether the reader may have a negative reaction to your chosen point of view.
When evaluating effectiveness, you can also consider how consistent the point of view should be. Some writing requires a completely consistent point of view. For example, software instructions directing you how to complete a task would be confusing if some instructions referred to I or we while others referred to you. Often, though, using multiple points of view can be effective, like when you write a professional email that uses the 1st- person I to describe an action you’ve taken and the 2nd-person you to ask for further instructions from your boss.
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.
- Reread the passage aloud and listen for consistency in point of view.
Let’s look at an example:
- Inconsistent point of view:
- Even though he believed weight loss was possible, you do not know how hard it can be until you try to lose a few pounds.
- Consistent point of view:
- Even though he believed weight loss was possible, he did not know how hard it would be until he tried to lose a few pounds.
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.
- If you would only give reading a try, you might actually enjoy it.
- Subliminal messages enter our psyches on a daily basis.
- As a feminist, I believe that women should receive pay that is equal to that of their male coworkers.