Writing Style – Third Person Pronouns in Reports

BizWritingTip reader: “When writing a report is it correct to always use the third person?”

BizWritingTip response: Third person pronouns are the words he or she, it, they and their variations. Yes, you can use these pronouns in a report, but I would never say “always.”

Before you begin a report, you need to determine both the purpose of the document and the tone you want to create.

There are three tones every successful business writer must be able to use: formal, neutral, or informal.

Up until eight years ago, reports were written with a formal tone, letters with a neutral tone, and emails an informal.

I am now finding that many companies are reducing their use of the formal tone in reports. A formal tone avoids most personal pronouns (I, me, we, you)and uses passive voice sentences and the third person pronoun “it.” The sentences are long and the paragraphs lengthy. This type of writing offers little “reader buy-in” and is considered cold. Many people find it boring. But it does create an objective feel.

Example (formal tone sentence)

Over $50,000 was earned during the first quarter. (passive voice sentence)

A neutral tone is becoming more popular in reports as it has a little more warmth and tends “to pull” the reader into the message. A neutral tone uses first (we) and third person pronouns (except for it) and active voice sentences.

Example (neutral tone sentence)

We earned over $50,000 during the first quarter. (active voice sentence with a first person pronoun)

An informal tone uses active voice sentences and lots of personal pronouns with an emphasis on the first and second person pronouns: I, we and you. An informal tone is not sloppy. It is conversational and friendly. Initially, only emails were written with an informal tone, but I am noticing that many writers now use this tone in letters – when they want to create a bond with the reader.

Example (informal tone sentence)

Because of your efforts, we earned over $50,000 during the first quarter.

“Was it helpful that this answer was provided? Or “Did this answer help you?” Formal versus informal? Your choice.

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