Maintain a Consistent Point of View

According to author James Alan Gardner, viewpoint is essential in winning the reader's confidence. He is talking about writing fiction here, but the principle is just as important for essays, textbooks, web pages, or other works of non-fiction. Writing that doesn't present a consistent point of view can be very disconcerting and confusing for the reader, even when, or perhaps especially when, the reader doesn't realize what the problem is.

Points of View

Many web site home pages use a very direct and impersonal third-person presentation of information:

and of links to other pages:

Other sites have home pages with a more friendly first-person presentation:

Others have a more personal first-person presentation that conversationally involves the second person:

And still others reverse the relationship by presenting an even more personal second-person viewpoint, pretending to actually be the second person and making you first-person:

Depending upon its intended use, one viewpoint may be more appropriate than any other; there is no point of view that is always right or wrong.

What is important though, is sticking with the chosen viewpoint. Ideally, all pages at the same sibling level will present the same point of view. And, unless a section is clearly marked as different, certainly within any one page a consistent point of view must be maintained.

A Real-world Example

MFCF menu of links to additional information: News, ..., Help me, Help yourself

The home page for the University of Waterloo's Math Faculty Computing Facility contains a real world example of how not do do it.

It manages to combine three different points of view into the same list. News and others are given from the factual third-person viewpoint, yet amazingly the last two manage to take on both second-person and first-person viewpoints. One has to read it several times to realize that Help me isn't a request for donations and that Help yourself isn't a go-away rejection. Making the mismatched POV even more blatant, me and yourself actually refer to the same person.

The last two could be given a consistent viewpoint with something like:


But it would be much better to give them the same viewpoint as the rest of the list:

The target pages of those links though, make it obvious that the best solution would be to provide much more meaningful labels, such as: