Using Point of View in Your Research Paper Help (page 3)
Introduction to Point of View
Establishing and writing with a consistent point of view is just like creating a believable and strong tone in your work. Once you establish your perspective and a persuasive technique, the rest is easy. This lesson will discuss different points of view, the literary effects each one of them produces, and which point of view will be most helpful for you and your work.
You may remember a "points of view" lesson from your English classes in school. In works of literature or fiction in which events and characters are created from an author's imagination, it is very obvious to tell which point of view an author has used to tell a story. For instance, the usual points of view that an author can choose from are:
- First person singular narration = I
- Third person narration = he, she, or they
- First person plural narration = we
In other words, if an author wants to describe a character who drives a car into a tree on a dark night, he or she can choose to tell the action through one of these perspectives and from distinct points of view. For example an author might begin by stating:
Example A: First Person Narration
"It was a dark night. I didn't see the tree in the fog and my uncertainty mounted as the dim streetlights took on the quality of a dream. As I strained to see beyond my fogged windshield, I felt an abrupt jolt as the front of my car went headfirst into a tree."
Example B: Third Person Narration
"It was a dark night. She (or He or a character's name—for example, Ann) didn't see the tree in the fog and her (or his) uncertainty mounted as the dim streetlights took on the quality of a dream. As she (or he) strained to see beyond her (or his) fogged windshield, she (or he) felt an abrupt jolt as the front of her (or his) car went headfirst into a tree."
Example C: First Person Plural
"It was a dark night. We didn't see the tree in the fog and our uncertainty mounted as the dim streetlights took on the quality of a dream. As we strained to see beyond our fogged windshield, we felt an abrupt jolt as the front of our car went headfirst into a tree."
As you can see, each example contains the exact same factual information, but each of the different points of view produces a distinctive effect. For example, first person narration is usually the most immediate—there is less distance between writer and reader, and using the first person usually creates a strong bond between the narrator and the audience. Sometimes, however, authors prefer to use third person narration because it gives them more freedom. They are not constricted by or limited to the interior thoughts of one character, but instead, can move freely from one character to the other. Finally, the first person plural form of narration can produce a very eerie and all–knowing effect. In the short story "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner, an entire town narrates the mysterious death of the main character.
It is important to understand the different forms of narration and points of view. While an author has a great deal of freedom in choosing a particular point of view for a creative work, there is usually less leeway in a work of nonfiction or an analytical work such as a research paper. For one thing, you have assembled actual facts, statistics, and data. You have not made up your information or distorted it. In addition, you always want your reader to trust your expertise and be educationally and intellectually enlightened after reading your paper. Therefore, since your material is factual, you need to use a formal point of view. Remember how in the last lessons we spoke about establishing a strong tone and doing away with qualifiers such as "I think," "In my opinion," or "I believe"? When writing nonfiction, it is almost always a good idea to dispense with the first person pronoun (I, me, mine) and the first person point of view altogether. Writing from the first person point of view often makes your work seem like a journal entry or a page from a diary rather than a stand–alone persuasive text. Obviously, the reader knows that the writing is from your point of view because you are the author of the paper. There is no need to repeat yourself on that point by saying, "From my point of view… etc." But the question remains, how do you address the reader? What point of view should you take?
Formal Point of View
If in your paper, you would like the reader to pay particular attention to a specific piece of evidence that you have uncovered—one that indisputably establishes Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin of John F. Kennedy—you could write this information in several ways. Notice the different points of view that you can assume as the author:
Example A:"Hey, reader. It's really important that you remember that Lee Harvey Oswald planned his ambush on the grassy knoll for months."
Example B:"I really think it's important that you understand that Lee Harvey Oswald planned his ambush on the grassy knoll for months."
Example C:"If one looks at the evidence, it is indisputable that Lee Harvey Oswald planned his ambush on the grassy knoll for months."
Usually, the best way to address a reader is formally. Use a professional and distanced point of view just as you would maintain both your professionalism and your distance in the courtroom. Do not address the reader as a friend (Hey, reader!). You are a writer and the reader is your audience, not an acquaintance. Similarly, do not address the reader in the second person (Hey, you!). It is also better not to use first person narration or the first person pronoun, I (I really think). The reader already knows that your writing reflects your thinking, so why repeat yourself? Instead, maintain your distance; if you must use a pronoun, use one. "One has only to look at the evidence…,""If one remembers, such an example was discussed earlier," "One can clearly see that the personality conflicts within the White House caused President John F. Kennedy a great deal of problems." Using this point of view allows you to address the reader without being too informal.
Almost all nonfiction writing, and journalism in particular, maintains a polite, formal point of view. For example, in a daily newspaper such as The New York Times or The Washington Post you never see an article that begins in this way:
"Today, I think a really important piece of legislation was signed at the White House. The bill for affordable housing is really important because as you know, many Americans need federally subsidized housing."
Instead, using a more formal and distanced point of view, the same information might be conveyed like this:
Washington D.C.—Today at the White House, President Bush signed a bill for affordable housing. This piece of legislation is viewed as an important step towards providing Americans with federally subsidized housing.
Often, by simply removing all personal pronouns and personal opinions from nonfiction writing, you can make your ideas more powerful and more likely to persuade the reader. Let the readers be persuaded by the evidence you have gathered and the power of your writing, rather than telling them outright what to think. Give your readers credit and make the act of reading your paper interesting for them. Guide them to your evidence, write convincingly, but let them form their own conclusions based on the material that you have gathered. Giving your reader the space and distance to digest the information you have presented keeps him or her interested.
While using more immediate and diverse points of view for works of fiction might be beneficial and produce specific results, a work of nonfiction is based upon facts and the accumulation of hard evidence. Allow the evidence you have gathered to persuade your reader so that you, as the author, won't have to. Maintain a formal tone at all times, as well as an objective, or unbiased point of view, and rely on the strength of your unique writing style to convince your reader.
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