A consideration of the merits of writing in the 3rd person.

With a tip of the hat to Geoff Pope, writing for the NYT’s Grammar Girl Column.

(And our blogs on first and second person can be found here and here.)

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

The 3rd person is often used in fiction, and for dispassionate academic writing. In the example above, it’s particularly apposite, because Kafka is talking about an ownerless, uncaring bureaucracy in which things Just Happen, apparently without anyone being responsible.

Great books written in 3rd person include, well almost every great book. But of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings serves as a good example of both the advantages and disadvantages of this perspective. We’re made aware of facts that the characters don’t know, and get a full picture of events. But we’re prevented from knowing the precise motivations and emotions of any single character – and thus kept separate from them.

And great copy written in 3rd Person?:

In tribute to Julius Koenig (1921-2014)

In tribute to Julius Koenig (1921-2014)

When you take “I” out of the equation, the author isn’t talking about their own opinion. They’re talking about facts and events that are observable – and could have been observed by anyone who happened to be there at the time.

This is why Procter and Gamble’s ads make heavy use of Reasons To Believe. They want to substantiate their observations about their products as more than just selling – they want to sell with the force of observed science.

So they de-author their voice, and prove their legitimacy by offering us RTBs – things we can all observe, if we happen to be looking.