Whether you’re writing website content, blog posts, newsletters, marketing materials or creative works, your point of view will determine how readers approach your work. You can insert your personal views and experiences into your work, creating a friendly voice that speaks directly to your readers. You may also create a professional, sophisticated voice that your readers are more likely to consider trustworthy and reliable.
While there are other factors that can determine what your readers think of your work, picking the right point of view and remaining consistent from beginning to end is a good start. This guide will introduce you to the four POV options, and you will also pick up some tips on how to check for consistency before turning your work loose on the world.
This is the most personal point of view because you’re writing as if every word comes directly from your own mind and heart. This is the POV typically chosen for memoirs, and many bloggers use this option naturally. You may also use this point of view to write reviews for products that you have used personally or to bond with your readers through sales copy.
Here are two examples of first-person point of view in action:
“I’m writing this primer because I want to help you improve your writing skills.”
“I wonder how much you would willingly pay for all-natural diaper cream.”
It’s important to be mindful of what you say when using this point of view because you don’t want to mislead your readers. If you’re reviewing a product with which you have no personal experience, it’s best to use second person to avoid direct statements that some may see as lies. If you’re restating ideas that are not yours originally, you don’t want to state them as personal thoughts or experiences.
This point of view allows you to speak directly to your reader as if they are sitting nearby and have your undivided attention, but the focus is placed on the reader rather than the writer. You do this by using the pronoun “you” throughout the text.
Notice the differences in our examples if we rewrite them in second person:
“If you’re reading this primer, you probably want to improve your writing skills.”
“How much are you willing to pay for all-natural diaper cream?
Notice how the emphasis is now on the reader? This approach focuses on why the reader is spending time with the primer rather than why the writer created the primer. Rather than a person wondering what someone would pay for diaper cream, it poses a direct question asking the reader what they might pay.
You may use this POV in blog posts, website content and newsletters. It creates an approachable voice that allows each reader to feel that you understand what they’re thinking, what they need or what they’re going through. While this is more personal than third person, it often sounds more professional than first person.
Most website content is now written in second person. If you’re uncertain whether to use first or second, it’s always a safe bet to go with second
You’re leaving your personal opinions and experiences out entirely when you use this less-personable POV. This is the least common POV for website content and blogs, but you will see it at times when reading content for some large businesses. It’s also used a lot in white papers, reports, press releases and technical journals. While you can sound just as professional with second person and not everyone worth listening to will write in third person at all times, this is the POV often preferred for business materials.
Let’s go back to our examples to see how they change once rewritten into third person:
“Becky wrote a primer on point of view because she wanted to help other writers improve their skills.”
“The Association of Baby Health conducted a survey to determine how much consumers are willing to pay for all-natural diaper cream.”
Notice that this POV creates distance between the reader and the writer. You’re not expressing a personal experience or idea, and you’re not speaking directly to the reader in a friendly tone. You’re simply stating facts and ideas in an objective manner.
Third Person – Omniscient or Limited?
When using third person for a work of fiction, you will have to commit to either omniscient or limited point of view. This determines what information your narrator may realistically know about your characters and the storyline, and that determines what they can reveal to your reader.
An omniscient narrator knows everything about everyone at all times. They can tell your reader what is happening with each of your characters, and they can reveal things that the characters don’t know themselves. This narrator is not a character actively at work in your story, so their job is simply to tell the story while revealing details from all sides as necessary.
A limited narrator speaks from the viewpoint of a single character. They cannot tell your readers what another character is thinking or reveal the personal history of another character unless it was previously revealed to them in a realistic manner. This POV is often used when a character actively at work in the story serves as the narrator. They can report on the actions and words of other characters and deliver their personal observations, but they can’t jump into the minds of other characters.
There are some ways to blend and twist these third-person points of view. For instance, you may create a specific character who takes your readers back in time and tells the story from their recollection. They may say what all characters were thinking and doing even though they wouldn’t have known those details if the story were unfolding around them in real time.
This is a way to turn a limited narrator into an omniscient narrator, allowing the reader to understand that the narrator was once upon a time an active part of the story. The catch is that you’re relying on one character’s memory of events, and they can’t say for certain what other characters were thinking or feeling throughout the story. You could tell the same story from the perspective of four characters and come out with four different versions. What’s important is that your reader understands who the narrator is and understand how and when they may twist the story or misrepresent others within the story, even if it is unknowingly.
How to Check for Consistency in POV
It’s common for writers to blend first and second point of view to some extent, especially when writing website content or blog posts in first person. For instance, let’s expand on our examples a bit:
“I decided to write this primer because I know that many writers struggle with point of view. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably one of those writers in search of a little help.
“How much are you willing to pay for all-natural diaper cream? I wanted as many people as possible to answer that question honestly so that I could price my new diaper cream appropriately, so I created the following survey.”
Both of these examples may seem to blend first and second person, but they both fall within the realm of an overall first-person narrative. Since first and second person both speak directly to the reader, you may use the “you” pronoun without confusing the reader.
While this works for first-person pieces, it doesn’t work for pieces written in second or third person. If you’re writing in second person, a sentence that comes from the “I” or “we” perspective will pull the reader out of the story instantly. They will wonder who this “I” person is and where they came from, and it will confuse them. The same goes for addressing the reader with the “you” pronoun or the first-person “I” in a piece that is written in third person.
If you want to double check that every sentence of your work sticks with your chosen point of view, read the text backwards or mix the paragraphs up and read them randomly. Focus on one sentence at a time, looking at the pronouns to ensure that they are consistent with your chosen POV.