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Reading Point of View Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Distance vs. Intimacy

Whether writers intend it or not (though they almost always do), the third-person point of view establishes a certain distance between the writer and the reader. There's no direct person - to - person contact that way (me to you). Rather, with the third-person point of view, someone (or something) else is speaking to the reader.

The first-person point of view, on the other hand, establishes a certain intimacy between the writer and the reader. The writer uses I, my, mine, we, our, orus as if expressing his or her own personal feelings and ideas directly to the reader. "We congratulate you" makes message B much more personal than message A, where the company congratulates you.

  1. First-person point of view establishes intimacy.
  2. The writer wants to be close to the reader.

  3. Third-person point of view establishes distance.
  4. The writer wants to distance him - or herself from the reader.

When Writers Use Third Person

In a business environment, it's not always practical to be personal. Though the first-person point of view may make the reader feel close to the writer, the first-person point of view also implies a certain subjectivity. That is, the writer is expressing a very personal view from a very personal perspective.

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity

There's nothing wrong with expressing personal views, but in the business world, writers may not always be at an advantage using the first - person point of view. They're more likely to be taken seriously when they're objective, presenting things from an outsider's point of view, than when they're subjective, presenting things from their own possibly selfish or biased point of view.

  1. Subjective: based on the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the speaker or writer (first-person point of view)
  2. Objective: unaffected by the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the speaker or writer (third person point of view)

Thus, if you wanted to complain about a new office policy, which of the following points of view do you think would be more effective?

  1. I think our new office policy is a failure.
  2. The new office policy appears to be a failure.

Most people would agree that sentence B is more effective. The question is, why?

  1. The point of view of sentence B is more effective than that of sentence A because
    1. sentence A is too subjective.
    2. sentence B is too subjective.
    3. sentence A is too objective.
    4. all of the above.

The answer is choice a. Sentence A uses the first person point of view, and because I is so subjective and personal, it doesn't carry as much weight as the objective sentence B. In sentence B, there is no personal perspective; someone from the outside (a third person, not the reader or the writer) is looking at the policy and evaluating it. The third-person point of view is almost always considered to be more objective because the third person is not directly involved in the action. I, however, is directly involved in the action (the policy) and therefore cannot have an objective opinion about the policy's success or failure. I's opinion may be prejudiced by the writer's personal experience.

Of course, even when a writer uses third person, he or she can still express his or her own opinion. When that opinion is expressed in the third person, however, it appears much more objective.

When Writers Use Second Person

When is you an appropriate pronoun? What effect does it create for you, the reader? You generally is used to address the reader directly, particularly when the writer is giving directions. Imagine, for example, that you have registered for a financial planning class at the local community college. Prior to the first class, you receive the following note:

Note A

As a student in our financial planning class, you will need several items. First, you must purchase the book Financial Planning: The Basics by Robin Wexel. Second, you must outline your current financial situation by making a list of your income sources as well as your bank accounts, investments, and retirement plans. Finally, you should prepare a financial wish list that documents where you would like to see yourself financially ten years from now. You should be as specific as possible when putting this list together.

    Now, imagine you receive this note instead:

Note B

Students in our financial planning class will need several items. First, they must purchase the book Financial Planning: The Basics by Robin Wexel. Second, they must outline their current financial situation by making a list of income sources as well as bank accounts, investments, and retirement plans. Finally, they should prepare a financial wish list that documents where they would like to see themselves financially ten years from now. They should be as specific as possible when putting this list together.

    Which note would you rather receive? ______

Most likely you'd rather receive note A. Now, here's the tougher question:

  1. The point of view of note A is more effective than the point of view of note B because
    1. note A feels less formal.
    2. note A speaks personally to the reader.
    3. note A addresses the reader as an individual.
    4. all of the above.

Many people would prefer note A for all of these reasons, so the answer is d. First of all, in note A, the writer speaks directly to the reader (you). In note B, the writer speaks in the third person ("students"); the note never acknowledges that you are a student. As a result, note B sounds more formal or official. The second- person point of view, however, addresses you personally. It singles you out as an individual, not as a category (student). It is almost like note A was written just for you.

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