First and third person are points of view. They are the perspectives from which a piece of writing is told. Different writing assignments and types use different points of view.
What is first-person perspective?
First person is the point of view where the speaker refers to him or herself.
I spent ten years working in public schools.
In that sentence, the writer is also the speaker of the piece, and he or she is writing about him or herself.
What is third-person perspective?
Third person is the point of view where the speaker does not refer to him or herself.
Public schools should work hard to retain teachers.
In that sentence, the writer does not refer to his or herself.
When should I use first-person or third-person perspective?
Personal Writing, such as for a reflective essay, or a "personal response" discussion posting, can be written in the first person (using "I" and "me"), and may use personal opinions and anecdotes as evidence for the point you are trying to make.
All other university papers (Exposition, Persuasion, and Research Papers) should generally be written in third person, and should only use credible academic sources to support your argument.
When first person is used in academic writing, like research papers, it shifts the focus from the topic to the writer. The purpose of a research paper is to present information on a topic not to share the writer’s own experience researching the topic or with the topic in general.
First vs. Third Person Writing
First person example (only acceptable for personal writing):
I think Shakespeare's play Hamlet is about the relationships between family members. I really liked the play, and in some ways the characters reminded me of my own family.
Third person correction (appropriate for all other academic writing):
Shakespeare's play Hamlet deals with the relationships between family members. In Examining Hamlet, Arnold Latimer describes these relationships as "conflicted" (2005, p. 327).