The personal voice, the personal I or the first person singular is usually used in autobiographies, informal descriptive essays, editorials and in rhetorical writing such as speeches, introductions to books and in less formal writing of a didactic nature. In other words, it is used a lot. The first person is such an engaging voice that it is also used in a good percentage of fictional writing as the fictional narrator relates his or her own experiences so that the tale can be told. The directness of the personal I makes it attractive to readers. Students are usually eager to read someone’s story told in this person because 1) there is a good chance that the subject will be real and “human” and therefore 2) easier to understand than technical material with its technical vocabulary and 3)readers enjoy “meeting” the writer when his/her personality or fictional narrator’s personality comes through the voice of this person. The personal I is anecdotal and enables students to readily relate to the speaker or writer.
The second person usually has a limited audience because it is used to teach, show the way or lead through directions or a new skill. People who want to be taught something, who in some cases, want to experience the didactic wisdom of a secular or religious leader (sermons), or want to learn a new skill (how-to) will readily accept the “you” voice and its accompanying tone.
It is with the third person singular or plural that most students (in class and of life) have the most difficulty. This person is impersonal. It is usually used to teach concepts or material rather than to share experiences and opinions, as the first person does, or to teach a skill or a moral position, as the second person does. It is therefore by definition going to be harder to understand and will therefore require more effort (=work!).
For the student, or anyone, to use this voice, he will have to be ready to some degree set him/herself up as someone worth listening to or reading and as someone with worthwhile information. For these reasons students, and possibly all types of writers, are either unable or unwilling to write in the third person (thus, the reason this piece tends to change from third to second to first and back again).
The first person plural is the we voice. This is the voice of the writer or speaker who is with one word uniting him/herself with the audience. Politicians, ministers, union leaders, teachers and those in the same club or group tend to use this voice to dramatic and expressive effect. (by way of contrast, the doctor who greets his patient with “And how are we today?” can count on being resented because the “we” is clearly misplaced in this situation). Rodney King’s speech after the Los Angeles revolt of early May, 1992 will be discussed below as an example of use of this voice at its best.