Eliminating Second Person (You)

Most academic writing prohibits the use of second person (the words “you” and “your”).  One of reasons for this is that people have a tendency to use something we call the “generalized you” when they aren’t addressing a specific person or group of people, but are instead making a general statement.  “You can’t fight city hall,” is a great example of the generalized you.  In academic writing, one would write, “One can’t fight city hall,” instead.  We’ve found that avoiding second person altogether, by changing what you write to third person, is the best strategy.  Avoid commands also.  “Think about the role that women played in the American West in the 1860s,” is a command that implies the word “you.”

Read the following example carefully:

Before (wrong):

Have you ever been to a party where you didn’t know anybody?   You can handle this in one of two ways.  You can let it stress you out, or you can have a little fun with it.  You could do what I do—pretend to be someone you are not.  Just for that evening, you could be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker.  Sure, it’s risky.   You could end up in a conversation with an expert in the field that you are feigning expertise in, but you can always excuse yourself to use the bathroom if the situation gets too intense.  You could even claim an emergency and leave the party if a conversation pens you in—just look at your cell phone with alarm and utter your goodbyes as you walk out the door.

After (corrected):

Everyone has been to a party where she knows no one.   This can be handled in one of two ways.  The party-goer can let it stress her out, or she can have a little fun with it.  She could do what I do—pretend to be someone she is not.  Just for that evening, she could be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker.  Sure, it’s risky.   She could end up in a conversation with an expert in the field that she is feigning expertise in, but she could always excuse herself to use the bathroom if the situation gets too intense.  If a conversation pens her in, she might even claim an emergency and leave the party by simply looking at her cell phone with alarm and uttering her goodbyes as she walks out the door.

 

Now fix this one:

Before (wrong):

You should always register for classes on the first day that registration is open and available to you.  If you don’t, you are apt to experience a set of unpleasant consequences.  First, you might be surprised at how quickly the sections that fit your schedule fill up.  It makes sense if you think about it—other people probably want the same times that you want.  Second, many of the courses that you need are not offered every semester, so you might find yourself having to delay your graduation for an entire year because you didn’t get into the course that you needed.  Last, you might end up having to take electives that you really didn’t want to take just to maintain your full-time status for financial aid.  If your load drops below fifteen credits, you might not be eligible for the assistance you need to make it through the semester.