Should You Write About Yourself in the Third Person on Your Website?

Third Person

So, exactly why did you decide to write about yourself in the third person on your website? Did you think it would make you sound more professional? Like you’re a big fancy impressive company? Or did you just do it because everyone did and ‘that’s just how it’s done’?

Whatever your reason, I’m betting you also thought, ‘Damn this feels weird. Do I sound like a twat? I’m pretty sure I sound like a twat.’

Well, I’ve got news for you: yes, you sound like a twat.

I don’t know who decided this was a good idea, but whoever it was, you should be thanking them right now, because after reading this you’re going to be one of the few sane-sounding, non-twattish, approachable professionals on the web. Because after reading this, you’re going to go and change every page on your website into the first person narrative.

I’m guessing you already know what those terms mean, but let’s just clear that up quickly in case you don’t:

  • Third person narrative: talking about another person. In this case, talking about yourself as if you were another person. Saying ‘he’ and ‘she’ and suchlike. Makes you sound like a dick.
  • First person narrative: the narrator relates their own story. Says ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’ and stuff.

And just for kicks, let’s cover the second person narrative too, even though it’s completely irrelevant to this blog post:

  • Second person narrative: talking to the reader. Like I’m doing to you right now. To YOU. See? (Actually it’s not completely irrelevant, because using the second person is a good idea on your website too. But that’s all I’m going to say on the matter for now.)

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about why writing about yourself in the third person is a bad idea:

Why You Shouldn’t Talk About Yourself in the Third Person

One of my readers wrote to me the other day, so I checked out his website. I had some advice for him. It went like this:

As for your bio, CHANGE IT TO THE FIRST FUCKING PERSON. That goes for the rest of your site, too. Nothing says douchebag like talking about yourself in the third person, especially when it’s obvious you are the only guy behind this biz.

A few things happen when you talk about yourself in the third person:

You Sound Like a Twat

Okay, so we’ve covered this already, but I want to drill it in.

Remember the last time you were chatting to a sexyass stranger in a bar? I’m betting that every time it turned out you two had something in common, your brain did a backflip and shouted ‘YES THIS ONE PICK THIS ONE GET ‘EM DON’T LET ‘EM GO BUT TRY NOT TO BE CREEPY OR NEEDY PLAY IT COOL FOR FUCK’S SAKE AHHHH.’ Right? But what if they had referred to themselves (don’t you hate that ‘themself’ is not a real word, btw?) in the third person?

If some super cute guy had said to me, ‘Oh yes, Dmitri absolutely adores eating pizza in bed while watching Game of Thrones’, even though eating pizza in bed while watching Game of Thrones is one of my favourite things ever and Dmitri is a super awesome name, I would’ve been like ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’ before necking my wine and climbing out the bathroom window (you know, like they do in the movies).

So yeah, I don’t know if there’s an official list of ways to make yourself sound like a twat, but if there is, I can guarantee this is on it.

You Seem Untrustworthy

It stands to reason that anything that makes you sound like a twat also has the power to make you sound untrustworthy (because untrustworthy people are twats. In case that wasn’t clear).

And the reason the third person makes you seem untrustworthy is obvious: it’s because you’re not being honest. You’re trying to make yourself sound bigger or better or more impressive than you are, when it’s probably pretty apparent that you’re the only one behind your website and that you have not in fact taught the internet — which I’m sure everyone knows is not a sentient being — to construct factual sentences about you. So the only other explanation is you’re trying to make yourself sound more impressive than you are, which is dishonest. Which is bad. Bad bad bad.

You Confuse Your Readers

I can almost guarantee that any website that is run by an individual, singular person who attempts to write in the third person will sound confused — and therefore confusing — in places. Sometimes it’ll be first person, sometimes third, sometimes singular, sometimes plural — basically a shitpot of ‘Oh fuck this narrative works here but not there; oh well, I guess I’ll roll with it because I’ve already written it.’

What you end up with is an incohesive mess of confusing pages that makes people wonder if you suffer from multiple personality disorder.

Nobody Can Relate to You

That’s the great thing about writing in the first person: it’s as though you’re having a conversation with your reader, like me and you are doing right now. And if you’re having a conversation with somebody, and they say something that resonates with you, you’re going to make an emotional connection with that person. That’s just a fact. But if you’re just listening to somebody talk about someone else, which is essentially what happens with the third person narrative, you’re not going to make that emotional connection with the writer, are you?

What You Should Do Instead

You’ve probably already guessed (or maybe I already said it. Okay, so I definitely already said it), but instead of talking about yourself in the third person, you should talk about yourself in the first person. But do you know why that’s what you should do? Because it’s the most honest thing you can do. You are you, so why would you write in a way that implies you’re not? Being honest will not only help your readers connect to you, it will also make you seem more trustworthy. And people won’t hire you unless you seem trustworthy. Successful businesses are built on trust. On honesty. On being your fucking self.

And yes, for the record, that also means referring to yourself in the singular if you are, in fact, an individual person. No ‘we-ing’ or ‘us-ing’ unless you really are a we or an us. If you have a team behind you, that’s fine: refer to your team as a ‘we’. Because that’s the honest thing to do. And you should always do the honest thing. Unless your mother’s asking you where you were last night, in which case the answer is always ‘at a friend’s’.

So if you haven’t already done it, I want you to go and do it right now: this very second, go and log into your website and change every single third person reference to a first person one. Yes, this very second. GO. You’re obviously already procrastinating because you’re reading this, so you might as well do something useful with your time — something that will have a big impact on your business.

I’m honoured to be included in The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015! There’s a fuckload of other awesome websites listed too, so if you’re looking for more inspiration you should definitely check it out.

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    1. This is great. Because I was drawn into what so many other people are doing, I think I remember once attempting to write like that. I just stopped as it sounded fucking ridiculous!

      Can definitely relate to the honesty thing. You end up feeling disconnected, reading 3rd person about pages.

      1. Hey Leandro, nice to see you here! And yes, isn’t writing about yourself in the third person just the weirdest thing? Honesty FTW!

    2. Hilarious whoever wrote this article. Totally unprofessional, cussing and calling people “twat”. Yeah, nice try.

    3. I googled and I found. Love this article Karen! Thanks very much for sharing and solving a problem I was 99% convinced I had, the 1% telling me if I went down the road of others, I would indeed sound like a complete twat.

    4. Awesome post Karen! I’m currently writing my personal website and, seeing as how so many people write about themselves in the third person, I was wondering if I was the only one who thinks how bad that sounds. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in this.

      PS: Hilarious writing by the way!

    5. I’ve always thought it sounded pretentious too but people write their bios in third person for the convenience of press. It’s customary especially for authors who release books to include a bio piece that can be easily copied and pasted to other sites. Also comes in handy as a byline on guest posts. It would flow better to write the bio more naturally rather than professionally, if others would only go through the trouble of changing it and still use our stuff.

      1. To be fair, I think it’s totally fine to write something in the third person if it’s going to be featured on someone ELSE’s site, but when it’s on your own site? Uggghhh.

    6. If I am writing on behalf of my husband and myself on our family business website, how can I use both our names (or can i!?) so as to make it sound more inclusive, instead of sounding like I am the one writing everything, since it is always in first person? Hmmmm. I’ve been struggling with some copy for a couple weeks because of this! Thanks for a great article. Will definitely be back.

      1. I would say it’s okay to say ‘we’ in this situation! It’s all about being honest about who you are :)

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