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18. Pronoun usage

Pronouns save us from having to repeatedly use names or long-winded descriptions of who we are writing about or to. However, their use must take into account the usage context.

We use pronouns once we have established to whom they refer, given the context, but that context must also be used to decide which pronouns to use.

The optimal pronouns to use will be influenced by:

  1. a.The audience to whom we are writing.
  2. b.How much trust they have in us at that point.
  3. c.Our relationship to the subject matter.
  4. d.Their relationship to the subject matter.

Part of writing is to decide who our target audience is, even if it is largely theoretical. This allows us to choose how we will engage them and what words we will use to do that.

How much trust readers have in us is dependent upon how much and what they know about us, and the point in the article they are. A person will have less trust when reading an article introduction, where they are still deciding whether to proceed, compared to reading further down after having made that decision.

Relationships to the subject matter are about how much ownership we take in it. We will choose inclusive words about subjects that we feel part of in a positive way, but choose separative words for those we want to distance ourselves from.

The various scenarios for pronoun usage, with examples, are:
aWe ourIntroductions or discussions about subjects that you want readers to feel they can be part ofWe feel in more control of our lives when we own our responsibilities
bOne many peopleTopics that we don't feel part of, but we are not sure whether the reader will. Good for indirect suggestions.
Many and people are for general discussions about others
One can agonise over one's worries, but sometimes one has to act.
People choose some weird activities to entertain themselves
cYou yourPersonal discussion or suggestions for those who trust us. Expressing what is expected of the reader or their responsibilities.
Might be taken as hostile criticism by those who don't trust us
You might be better off finding another way.
You are putting others at risk by your actions
dI me mine myExpressing your own opinions or choices, or indicating what you are personally responsible forI write from my understanding, but I don't expect you to believe what I write

The choice of pronouns implies a lot about our view of our relationship to our readers. They are important in communicating at the right level with an audience, especially when trying to create a sense of engagement or commitment from them.

  • The following is obvious!
  • Who cares if designers are bored?
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