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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Comic-Con – FirstShowing.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.
- Mad Men – Jezebel’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.
- Angelina Jolie – Vulture’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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Chelsea Clinton – Ecorazzi’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.”
- 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.