Re: Proposal Writing: Second Person vs. Third Person

Subject: Re: Proposal Writing: Second Person vs. Third Person
From: Scott Turner <sturner -at- airmail -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 10:53:24 -0600


I recently started working on the first update. Of course, I fell back on
my nine years of technical writing experience and began writing everything
in the second person--talk to your readers, not at them, right? I sent out
the first document for review and got a lot of positive feedback. I also
got feedback (from my boss) that said change it from second person to third
person and apply this change to all future documents. This runs contrary to
my training, so I'm not all that inclined to do this.

I'm wondering if the other proposal writers out there have any thoughts
about writing in the second person rather than the third person. My take is
that writing in the second person helps make the documents more approachable
from the reader's standpoint. The more approachable the document is, the
more likely it is to get read.
Am I off track here? Are employees at federal and state agencies looking
for third person documents? Does writing in the third person make documents
look more professional? What are you doing in your proposals?

The problem is that you are being asked to write in "third person obtuse."

This is the normal voice for all legal documents, insurance documents, government documents.

The important thing in all of these documents is not clarity or brevity, but word count, gravitas, and obfuscation. No kidding. The desire to write in a "formal" manner that seems to elevate the importance of the subject, or conceal that there is no real knowledge, or conceal the real objective is actual at the the base of this.

Also, because they have been doing it that way since Pontius Pilate was a corporal.

Lawyers were originally paid by the word. That tradition has never been supplanted. Guess who are very influential in government?

While it it possible to write in third person and make it intelligible, it still may not be a pleasant experience. If your boss won't budge on this, just try to make the writing good in third person.

That and keeping the gobledegook out of the writing will go a long way to making the third person view point less objectionable.



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