Business Writing vs. Pronouns

Pronouns… Their use can become a little murky depending on the context of the content you’re creating for your business. The trick is to figure out when the use of one pronoun is optimal compared to another.

Merriam-Webster’s fantastic article on pronouns and their use outlines the fact it’s “all about how you look at things” and goes on to explain them as follows.

“In first person point of view the narrator is a character in the story, dictating events from their perspective using “I” or “we.” In second person, the reader becomes the main character, addressed as “you” throughout the story and being immersed in the narrative. In third person point of view, the narrator exists outside of the story and addresses the characters by name or as “he/she/they” and “him/her/them.” Types of third person perspective are defined by whether the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of any or all of the characters.”

I have taken this definition and used it in context of writing about my business to clarify what goes where.

“We are not amused.”

– queen victoria (although, fyi, this is largely disproved)

First person

“I” (or sometimes “we” in large companies) is used to portray a specific personal effort, thought, or action. It’s common in places where you are trying to demonstrate some sort of personal expertise or authority on your content. Much of the content I produce for marketing my business uses the term “I” (even when referring to the business itself.)

Places it’s used:

  • Opinion pieces
  • Thought leadership articles
  • Content that is being consumed by an audience you have established a relationship with

Example: I believe that in an increasingly digital world, people are craving human connections. There is a huge opportunity to demonstrate that you care about your audience, and as businesses that communicate through the medium of digital content, we should be writing for the human, not necessarily just the algorithm. My mission is to humanise your brand by using clever content and copywriting.

Third person

Referring to yourself in the third person allows the audience you’re interacting with to “put a face to the name”.

Places it’s used:

  • Website/brochure/book “about me/us”
  • Introductions (e.g. keynote speaker intros)
  • Content that is being consumed by people who do not know who you are

Example: A 15 year stint in the corporate world has gifted Megan with skills in the fields of product management, account management, customer service, sales and marketing. Megan’s professional experience is combined with an insatiable appetite for information and a quirky world view, making her a versatile card-carrying Word Nerd.

Huh?

If you are a staff complement of one, you are your business and it’s a little easier to bend the rules as the context requires. As you can see from the two examples above, the “Megan” and “I” are pretty much interchangeable, however using third person starts coming across as a little “nutty” if used in excess or in the wrong context.

The “Terry Crews double-check” method

“Terry loves yohurt!”

– Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

If I happen to hit a pronoun grey area, I employ what I call the Terry Crews double-check method. I evaluate what is being communicated, who is being communicated with, who is doing the communicating, and how it is being communicated (i.e. written or spoken). If what is being said makes me sound like Terry Crews’ Brooklyn Nine-Nine character, I switch to the other way.

When it doubt, it’s usually better to err on the side of the first person.

(Pssst. Are you a small business owner? Are you feeling overwhelmed with mission statements, visions, values, brand pillars and promises?

Creating your brand doesn’t have to complicated. Download my “Building a brand: a roadmap for small business” guide here!)

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