When you write, use either the first person or third person point of view, but avoid shifting back and forth in the same sentence or paragraph. It can be confusing.

We have three points of view in English:

  • First person is the person speaking, so we write 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).

We use the first-person voice in email, in many formal memos, and in letters, whether they are personal or business correspondence. But we historically have written a formal document such as a proposal in the third person. Regardless of which point of view you choose, be consistent. Shifting between the different perspectives can confuse a reader. If you say, We are pleased with the quarterly results.  Zylox Corp. is committed to improving efficiency and developing new products, you are using two points of view. We is the first person; Zylox Corp. is the third person, because it is a party other than the speaker or the person spoken to.

Here are two consecutive sentences from a proposal:

Our research explored the business opportunities for Militron within the San Francisco technology market. Our goal was to understand how clients will benefit from using your services.

The pronoun our is first person, but Militron is third person, and then the writer shifts back to the first person with our and your in the second sentence. The reader might be wondering whether your refers to Militron or to some other party.

Don’t force readers to reread a sentence to try to make sense of it.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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