People often begin reading a message and suddenly pause, uncertain who is speaking. Is this written from the writer’s perspective, or someone else’s, perhaps the company’s?

The issue is point of view, a literary term that applies to any type of writing: email, formal memo, proposal, news release, or story. Point of view is the narrator’s position in relation to the information being communicated. We have three points of view in English:

  • First person is the person speaking, so we use the pronouns I, we, our, or us.
  • Second person is the person you are speaking to, you.
  • Third person point of view is someone other than the speaker or the person spoken to (he / him, she / her, they / them).

Most email messages and many formal memos are written with a first-person point of view, but business proposals and most news articles are in the third person.

Writers sometimes make the mistake of mixing points of view when referring to the same thing, which momentarily interrupts the reader’s forward motion as she tries to determine who is speaking. This is a common occurrence in news releases, because the writer is an employee of the company, so the two perspectives overlap, as in this example:

We are pleased with the quarterly results. Zylox Corp. is committed to developing new products that are environmentally friendly and…

We is used correctly because the writer is a company employee, and, therefore, can be considered one and the same. So shifting to Zylox Corp. makes it awkward, because that is third person point of view, making it seem as if the company is an entirely separate entity from the writer.

Take away tip: Pick a point of view and stick with it, to avoid forcing the reader to reread the sentence.