Why did you decide to write about yourself in the third person on your website? Maybe you thought it would make you sound more professional. Or perhaps like you’re a big fancy impressive company?
Or, and I’m guessing this hits a little closer to home, did you just do it because everyone else does, so that must be what you’re supposed to do?
Whatever your reason, I’m betting you also thought, ‘Damn this feels weird. Do I sound like an asshole? I’m pretty sure I sound like an asshole.’
Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you but: yes, you sound like an asshole.
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-assholey, 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.
- First person narrative: the narrator relates their own story. Says ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’ and stuff.
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 an Asshole
Okay, so we’ve covered this already, but I want to drill it in.
Remember the last time you were chatting to a sexy 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).
You Seem Untrustworthy
It stands to reason that anything that makes you sound like an asshole also has the power to make you sound untrustworthy (because untrustworthy people are assholes. 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 bigger 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.
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.
UPDATE MAY 2020: I wrote this blog post five years ago. I still agree with it in principle – you shouldn’t use third person just to make it seem like your business is bigger than it is, to pretend to be someone you’re not – however, there are always exceptions. If you want to write in the third person for your bio, you can make it work. In fact, I’ve done that on my new site (I no longer update this one). You can check out how I’ve done it on my new website, KazMarston.com.