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Blogosphere Trends + Unicorns

This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren

Okay, okay, so we’re not actually talking about unicorns…but even though it’s a vital part of your blog’s tone and voice, I didn’t think you’d click on anything that sounded as deceptively unsexy and unexciting as what we’re actually discussing this week, which is grammatical person. Wait! Before you zone out, stick with me for a sec: It’s not as bad as it sounds. Grammatical person is simply means that you’re either referring to yourself (first person), your reader (second person), or a third party (third person). And, um, like a unicorn, it often goes unnoticed and can be exceptionally helpful. (I’m trying, you guys.)

Every time you sit down to write a post, you make choices. Some, such as your topic and headline, are likely to be very deliberate. Others, such as grammatical person, probably happen without much scrutiny—but even if you aren’t pausing to consider person (we’ll drop the “grammatical” now ’cause I know it freaks some people out), it impacts the strength of every post you write. That’s why I’ve chosen some posts about the ten most blogged-about stories of the last week (provided, as always, by Regator) to illustrate the importance of choosing the right person. Let’s take a look:

  1. Oil Spill – Writing in the third person (using pronouns such as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they’) isn’t just for newspapers, academic papers, and formal writing. Although we have talked about the importance of using your personality and opinions to strengthen your blog, there may be times when you simply want to convey the facts. Unsurprisingly, the blog of news organization Reuters is written in third person in “Dalian oil spill is all cleaned up” and most of its other posts. Be aware though that a “just the facts” approach can, when not used with care, leave you with a post that seems dull or stiff.
  2. Shirley Sherrod – The writer of “After Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod, We Need a Slow-News Movement” from Politics Daily chose to add first person (using pronouns such as ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘we’) in combination with third to clearly convey his opinion along with a bit of his personality.
  3. Comic-ConFirstShowing.net’s “Comic-Con 2010: Quick Review of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim” is an example of a very first-person focused post, with pronouns such as ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘my’ accounting for more than five percent of the word count. A post with this much focus on the blogger is risky because unless he or she has established a relationship with readers so that they care a great deal about personal viewpoints, the post runs the risk of being less useful to readers.
  4. Mad MenJezebel’s “Contest: Win A Complete Set Of Mad Men Barbie Dolls!” primarily uses second person (pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘your’) to give instructions directly to readers. There are plenty of times when you might want to speak directly to your readers, giving them directions for a contest is just one.
  5. Angelina JolieVulture’s “Six Lessons From Salt About the Differences Between Male and Female Action Heroes” is an example of a third-person piece that—unlike the newsy style of the Reuters blog above—infuses some personality, humor, and informality into the post.
  6. Kindle – “Don’t Really Care About Touch Screens or Color” from Conversational Reading uses a combination of first and second person. That choice, along with phrases such as “I wonder how many readers out there are like me…” establishes a conversational tone.
  7. Magic Trackpad – Telegraph.co.uk’s technology blog asks, “Would you switch your mouse for a trackpad?” Second person is the best choice when you’re trying to encourage interaction and, although the rest of this post is written in first and third person, most of the comments directly answer the second-person question from the headline.
  8. Tony Hayward – “3 Big Reasons Why Tony Hayward Failed As CEO” from The Business Insider is a third-person piece that uses first and second person in the subheaders to provide the voice of the public. Choosing a different grammatical person in subheads can make them stand out even more.
  9. Chelsea ClintonEcorazzi’s “Chelsea Clinton’s Very Vegan Rehearsal Dinner” uses first person (along with the ubiquitous third person and a dash of second) to help build the voice of the blog and connect with readers with statements such as “I’m just as confused … as some of you may be.”
  10. Oliver Stone – When a story has a direct impact on you for some reason, as “Put Down Your Pitchforks; Oliver Stone Apologizes” from Cinematical did for its author, the first person is likely to be your best choice. Many people find that first person is also the most natural option for storytelling, since that is how we are accustomed to telling stories on a day-to-day basis.

Even though the grammatical person was almost certainly not the first thing on these bloggers’ minds, each of the above posts would have been vastly different had the bloggers chosen a different option. What person do you use on your blog? Is it a conscious choice? Please share your thoughts and unicorn stories in the comments.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com and Regator for iPhone as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

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Comments

  1. RMJ says:

    As a feminist blogger, I’m very careful about my use of person – as I wrote about here. If I’m talking about myself or my experiences, I avoid making them universal – a sensitive assumption in my community – and use the first person singular. If I’m writing about someone else, I try to avoid making it all! about! me! by using the third person.

  2. Kamal Hasa says:

    Well it just happens. I mean when I blog I really don’t make up my mind if the article would be all about the people or me.

    I just use words appropriately in a way that my message is delivered!

  3. Sally says:

    Hi Kimberly,

    Wow, really great examples, thanks for sharing them.

    I have to hold my hand up and say that my grammar is not always the best, but most people don’t seem to notice, or care, phew!

    I think I am lucky because I write about personal experiences on my blog so people don’t tend to mind if I over-focus on me, myself and I.

    Sally :)

  4. Antonia says:

    I actually like grammar so I probably would have clicked through anyway. But unicorns definitely got my attention!

    For me it’s definitely a conscious choice, but it varies from post to post depending on the topic (and my level of expertise).

    Something I do, and I’ve noticed others doing also, is use headers to signal a change in voice. Say I’m writing about, oh I don’t know, how to catch unicorns, I might use the headers “My personal experience catching unicorns” and “What the experts say about keeping unicorns alive in captivity” and “How you can catch your first unicorn today.” Then the reader knows what to expect and can skip or scan to their heart’s content.

  5. Josh says:

    Great Post. I often struggle with which “person” to use. While most bloggers have a tendency to use first person, I believe third person gives a much more authoritative feel to a post. It turns “this is merely my opinion” into “this is factually the way it is”

    Kimberly, thank you for your thoughtful weekly posts on problogger…something I look forward to each week.

    Josh

  6. Jon Jackson says:

    I use first person because I’m trying to build a personal blog that tells stories about my life. (‘Wrath of my four year old’ kind of stuff.) It’s at least supposed to be amusing. Maybe I just haven’t hit my stride yet.

    Third person always seemed more suited to news and information sites. Which would be great if I could actually get a scoop or something (about as likely as me being the next person on the moon) of if I had the time to dedicate to writing a site like that. Tried it once but found that by the time I got around to writing an opinion piece on an issue it had been roundly played. It was like walking in on a conversation just as everyone was getting ready to leave the party. And I didn’t even know there was a party until it was almost over.

    Second person? Meh… Maybe as instructional writing. Tutorials and the like. Or maybe one of those old Dungeons and Dragons ‘you pick adventure’ books. (At least I think that was what they were called. It’s been a while and I only got one of the books. They weren’t very good. Dungeons and Dragon was supposed to be a social thing. It was like a party for geeks and those books destroyed even the social aspect. They were like facebook for one. What’s the point?)

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    Interesting post. One of the more original ideas that I have seen in quite a while for this niche. Great tips as well.

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  9. Kate says:

    This is quite interesting. I’m new to blogging and hadn’t really thought about it before, but looking back on what I’ve written I tend to use second person. I’m aiming to teach people about healthy eating and good food choices so I guess it makes sense to talk directly to people when doing that.

  10. Ooooo I’m guilty of lousing this up big time.I try hard not to but when I’m under pressure I sometimes miss the mistakes. hopefully they don’t impact too badly on my output but I accept it may make it difficult for some people to read. The Olover Stone article was good though. Nice and crisp!!

  11. I know this is about “voice” rather than grammar per se, but if we use third person singular, can’t we stick to third person singular? So often I see something like “Don’t lend money to a friend, unless you can trust them to pay you back.” THEM?

    I know we’ve come to this because of objections that doctors, lawyers, and sheriffs were always “he,” never “she.”
    That was a problem, but the solution is not to use “them.” How about this: I know someone (let’s call him Horace) who’s always late. (Thereafter, you can use “him.”)

  12. Blog Tyrant says:

    Well said.

    Once you find that voice and got it right it made all the difference don’t you think?

    Bad joke?

    Ha ha.

    The Tyrant

  13. Thu Nguyen says:

    Hi Kimberly,

    Depending on the topic, I let it flow at first then changing the grammatical person the second time around would make the piece more interesting so playing around with that is quite an insight. I’m glad you pointed this out.

    The way we voice ourselves through the grammatical person is an ongoing process. Sometimes a simple change can alter the whole idea of the article. Other than that the examples you’ve given above in regards to the trends are great ideas to pull from in terms of particular voices.

    Thanks for the insightful article!

    Thu

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  16. Krystle says:

    Having great grammar does not make up for the content of your blog. Content should always come first as we all know. A few grammatical errors here and there would be ok, but see, if you write a post with really crappy grammar, the tendency is for most people not to continue reading the post after a 3 sentences maybe.

    Regarding the person, it should really depend on what you’re writing about and why you’re writing it.

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