In Praise of Personal Pronouns
Rudolph Flesch, a pioneering advocate of readability, put great stock in the liveliness of the written word.
One way of getting that liveliness into our writing, he said, is to use the personal pronouns: you, me, I, we, us, he, she, him, her, and they.
When we use personal pronouns, several important things happen. For starters, we personalize our writing, and that makes it easier for readers to relate to the subject.
For example, which of the following two sentences would be more effective? (1) The use of personal pronouns personalizes written communication. (2) When we use personal pronouns, we personalize our writing.
I think you would agree that sentence 2, with several personal pronouns, is more lively and more likely to be understood. That sentence allows readers and listeners to relate to the words; in other words, there’s a personal connection. On the other hand, the first sentence is a collection of abstract concepts.
In using personal pronouns, we also make our writing more like our spoken communication. Listen to almost any conversation and you’ll notice frequent use of ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘we’. It’s quite natural to speak that way.
One more point: When we use personal pronouns, we’re more likely to use active verbs and less likely to use passive verbs. By passive, I mean the ’to be’ verbs, including ‘is,’ ‘are,’ and ‘be.’ When we replace these verbs with verbs that do something, we increase readability.
Try personal pronouns yourself. Take a document that you want others to read and rewrite it to include more of them. In the process of doing that, you’re bound to make it more readable. What’s more, you’ll also make your words more effective.