The First Person Perspective And Other Essays Online

Style, Genre & Writing


This resource provides a list of key concepts, words, and phrases that multi-lingual writers may find useful if they are new to writing in the North American educational context. It covers concepts and and key words pertaining to the stages in the writing process, style, citation and reference, and other common expressions in academic writing

Contributors:Heejung Kwon
Last Edited: 2017-08-29 12:12:41


What do you mean by tone in writing? In writing, tone can refer to: a writer’s style, character, or attitudes. As a reader, you will get certain feelings from a writer’s attitude toward certain topics. For example, if a writer expresses his or her passion in some topics, then the tone of the writing will very excited. A writer’s tone can be different from genre to genre, and from topic to topic. A Writer’s tone can be formal, informal, subjective, objective, critical, etc.


Being formal or “informal” is a matter of tone. Having a formal tone is often required in academic writing. When your professors or instructors say you should make your writing sound more formal, it means that you should not use some words that are used in a casual written or spoken forms of language.

For example, the language you use in a casual speech in a small get-together or a party is different from the language you use in your academic writing. It means that you should differentiate your use of language for a casual party and for academic writing. 

From your own angle

What does it mean to write from your own angle? If your professors or instructors require you to write something from your own angle, it means that they want to see your own perspectives and your own ways of viewing the world in your writing. It means that you should think about certain topics from your own ways of looking at those topics, instead of reproducing arguments made by others. 

First person point-of-view

Firstperson point-of-view refers to using the first-person pronouns I or We. If you write your paper with your co-authors, you might use we in the paper when you are refering to actions or beliefs that you and your co-authors have taken. In the first person point-of-view, you usually write your paper from your own experience or perspective. The use of first person point-of-view is usually avoided in academic writing. But, sometimes you are allowed to use it; for example, when you explain your own data or primary resources.

“Second person point-of-view”

Second person point-of-view means that you use the second-person pronounyou in your writing. You can sound informal to your audience, so it is often avoided in academic writing. But, if you are writing a recipe for some food, or instructions, or in casual or creative writing, you may use second person point-of-view. 

Third person point-of-view

Third person point-of-view refers to the use of third-person pronouns: he, she, they, and it. The third person point-of-view has a wide range of uses in both creative and academic contexts.


Context refers to the surroundings of certain words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. The meanings of words, phrases, sentences may change based on a given context. For example, in “give a hand”, “hand” would be interpreted as “help” or “assistance”, rather than as the thing at the end of your arm that has four fingers and a thumb.


Conventions refer certain traditions or rules of a context or genre. In other words, conventions are generally agreed on practices or rules that writers should pay attention to when they compose a text. For example, in academic writing, you should write in a formal style while using certain styles of citation to deliver your arguments to your audience.


If your assignment tells you to write a critical review or critical analysis about a specific topic, it means that you will carefully examine and analyze whatever you are reviewing. You need to lay out and explain your analysis, providing both strengths and weaknesses of it. In this type of writing, it is important to think about your own critical analysis of others' opinions, rather than merely summarizing them.


If your assignment tells you to write an argumentative paper, you will choose your stance on certain topics, and create a statement that clearly reflects your position or opinion on the topic. You will elaborate on your arguments, by explaining further, providing examples, and referencing relevant literature. In an argumentative paper, it is important to have a good understanding of a topic, and to develop your opinion.


If your assignment tells you to write an expository paper, you will explain and illustrate something in a way that your readers can clearly understand what you are saying in your texts. In an expository paper, you will not be expected to write your own opinions, or positions on certain topics. Instead, you will mostly explain, review, and describe certain concepts or facts. 

This post originally appeared in the Forward.

Read Jia Tolentino’s May 18th anti-personal essay personal essay “The Personal Essay Boom is Over” on the New Yorker’s website, then Google: Vivian Gornick, Roxane Gay, David Sedaris, Daphne Merkin, Leslie Jamison, Zadie Smith, Mary Karr, Gary Shteyngart, Jhumpa Lahiri, Elif Batuman or Joan Didion. Guess what you’ll find? Great recent personal essays, many in The New Yorker.

All too often, a field filled with women, Jews, gays, and people of color (like teaching and nursing) winds up marginalized.

Tolentino, 28, a contributing writer, worked at The Hairpin and Jezebel for three years from 2013-2016, where she wrote and printed the kind of “too personal” “insignificant” personal essays her 1900-word screed is now trashing. Yet the “ultra-confessional” personal essay “boom” by unknown writers that she addresses negatively did not start, as her piece asserts, in 2008. It wasn’t a “boom,” and it didn’t fade when she switched gigs. Moving on to higher brow lit-crit doesn’t necessitate her about-face, especially when her semantic argument is myopic and disingenuous, ironically in The New Yorker — launcher of countless memoirs, essay collections, and the franchise of David Sedaris.

Tolentino’s piece is doing what she’s criticizing: “inciting outrage” by giving voice “to horrible, uncharitable thoughts” for a splashy byline, paycheck and clickbait. Tolentino briefly mentions the real talk of the town this month: The Atlantic’s fascinating personal essay cover story, “My Family’s Slave,” by Alex Tizon, but points out its “backlash” instead of its significance.

As a feminist, memoirist, and writing professor with successful students, I wish younger women would have more awareness and less condescension for the revelations of their rising star sisters. White men with big books and bylines get exalted while smart, witty authors like Emily Gould and my former student Cat Marnell get bashed for their ambition and acclaim.

Why is Marnell’s dazzling addiction memoir “How to Murder Your Life” (Simon & Schuster, 2017) such a target? Is it uncouth for a woman to admit to wild adventures without proper repentance while making good money? That’s something addiction authors Bill Clegg, Augusten Burroughs, Jerry Stahl and Peter Hamill were never criticized for.

Luckily, first person writing remains democratic. To be well-published you need only three original, exciting pages. You don’t need money, a white penis, college degree, a cute young body, or media connections.

Diverse talent is rampant among my New School students and the personal can still be political, relevant and poignant in the repressive time of the anti-immigrant, anti-abortion Trump and Pence.

Two women I teach recently explored their Asian roots, leading to their first clips on The New York Times website. An African-American army wife with an autistic child detailed her struggles in Dame, Ebony, Yahoo and The Washington Post.

A Muslim who survived ethnic cleansing has chronicled being a refugee in Slate, Salon, Newsday and Esquire. A girl with an eye disease from Guatemala just had her first clip in the Wall Street Journal. A trans pupil published a poetic series in Teen Vogue. Beautiful memoirs taking on abortion and college rape were launched in the Modern Love column, the most popular feature in The New York Times for a decade, along with 50 other books, a podcast and upcoming movie.

While Tolentino and others espouse the simplistic, paternalistic view that women mining their intimate lives in public could be somehow exploitative and exploited, I quote Nora Ephron, “Everything’s copy,” and try to emulate her grace and sense of humor.

I always found revealing secrets in print cathartic and liberating, repeating my shrink’s mantra that, to stay healthy, you should “lead your least secretive life.” Indeed, I owe the career my conservative Midwest family hates to this form.

I was originally compelled by this so-called 2008 “first-person industrial complex boom” decades before, as I devoured the audacious confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell and Nikki Giovanni in the staid Michigan Jewburbs in the sixties.

Getting my MFA at NYU in 1981, I noticed one could turn poetry subjects into essays and books (like the brilliant Mary Karr, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Katha Pollitt.) After working at The New Yorker for four years, I wrote for The New York Times Lives and Hers columns, Newsweek’s “My Turn,” Cosmopolitan’s “Outrageous Opinion,” along with Glamour, New Woman, Marie Claire, which, at the time, paid $1,000 or more.

Tolentino attributes the shifting essay market to politics (a response to Trump’s election) but as her own piece demonstrates, it’s economics. She quotes former Salon editor Sarah Hepola saying the personal essay “boom” of her day was motivated by an online climate where content was needed and budgets were slashed.

Yes, after Apple’s iTunes destroyed the feasibility of music albums, the Internet devalued paper tomes with e-books and hurt print. Cheaper shorter faster online essay versions did proliferate, along with internet trolls and pop-up ads.

Instead of 1,600 word, $1,600 carefully curated Jane Magazine pieces, suddenly XOJane paid $25 or $50 for quick takes, many silly, which I blame on editors (who are, after all, our bosses) and the higher-ups in charge, desperate to keep their businesses afloat. I didn’t love all the Tampax and cat hair pieces or prompts from Hearst’s The Mix. Yet it seemed a worthy experiment since it gave young writers I knew clips, exposure, and literary agents. Cream rose, as always.

Gawker, XOJane, BuzzFeed, Hairpin and Jezebel never represented an essay “boom,” it was barely a blip on the radar, ephemeral insignificant modern conduits of an often-sacred art. It’s like moaning “the novel is dead,” citing Harlequin romances of the 90s. Top national newspapers, women’s magazines, and Jewish publications such as the Forward pay for and run vital, passionate, provocative personal essays daily, as does Salon and The New Yorker.

Everyone enjoys trashing confessional writing, forgetting they read and buy it constantly. Worth mourning are print editions of Self, More, Mademoiselle, New Woman, Ladies Home Journal and New York Press, among others. Tolentino’s piece lacks perspective on the important populist style of slave narratives, Holocaust testimonials, war confessions, and writers like Mark Twain, Simone de Beauvoir and Maya Angelou.

“It’s ridiculous to say the personal essay peaked in 2015. Writing that engages with ideas and personal anecdotes has been around since Montaigne in 1571. The genre’s not disappearing,” said MotherlessDaughters author Hope Edelman. And I agree with essayist Phillip Lopate: “The problem with confessional writing in this country is that people don’t confess enough.” His astute overview, “The Art of the Personal Essay,” (Anchor, 1995) crowns Seneca the Younger (c. A.D. 3-65) as personal essay originator. “Words are so over,” a Facebook friend joked. Let’s hold off decreeing the death of writing categories, especially platforms that spotlight women and minorities, and train more talented editors. The genre is flourishing. The question, as in any art form or profession, is how to make it better.

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