We need to talk about you. Specifically, we need to address your use of singular, first-person pronouns.
Yes, that phrase, “singular, first-person pronouns,” probably makes you sleepy and surfaces nightmare flashbacks to grammar class. But using too many of these words in the wrong place can encourage readers to disengage from your work.
Good writing, the best kind of writing, comes from our hearts. It shares personal anecdotes and relays our experiences as stories, tales that may be humorous, gut-wrenching, relatable, or outlandish. By putting ourselves into our writing, we connect with readers.
Yet, we’re also walking the balance beam of reader engagement. Talk too much about ourselves, and readers will abandon the piece.
Your writing doesn’t do its job if no one reads it. Plus, poor engagement can hurt your online content’s search engine rankings.
This story highlights how singular, first-person pronouns push readers away from our work and what we can do about it.
But first, let’s identify what we’re referring to with singular, first-person pronouns.
Words that tell readers, ‘Move along.’
Singular, first-person pronouns are the words as I, me, my, mine, and myself.
Most of us use these words quite a bit while speaking and in our writing. It’s hard to tell a story, especially when sharing something from our life, without using these words.
Yet using too many of these words can cause your reader to move along.
Think about the most annoying social media posts you see. There’s a good chance many of them focus solely on the person publishing the post and that the individual uses a lot of me, my, myself, and I.
You don’t want to read someone talking only about themselves, and neither do your readers.
The worst place for singular, first-person pronouns
While it’s a good idea to limit the number of singular, first-person pronouns in your writing, there’s one spot in your work where you should avoid using these words as much as possible: At the beginning of your sentences.
That’s because many people are skim readers, bouncing from one sentence to the next, especially while reading online content.
And singular, first-person pronouns act as stop words for many readers.
Meaning, readers skimming through articles hit the brakes when they come to a sentence starting with “I” or “my.” First, they wonder where they fit into the sentence. Then they often abandon whatever they’re reading.
To keep readers engaged, limit the number of sentences you start with singular, first-person pronouns. Doing so may be difficult at first, but it’s not impossible.
Here’s how you can do it.
How to reduce sentences that start with singular, first-person pronouns
When first trying to limit how often you begin sentences with a singular, first-person pronoun, don’t worry about it while writing. Instead, make this something you focus on while editing your work.
Get your first draft done. Then, read through your writing, identifying any sentence beginning with a singular, first-person pronoun.
Next, rewrite these sentences, one at a time, being mindful about what you want to communicate in that sentence while beginning it with a different word or phrase.
For example, take this sentence from a recent story I published: “The weekend I arrived in Lake Placid happened to be during the 2021 Lake Placid Ironman.”
Let’s say I wrote, in my first draft, the sentence as, “I arrived in Lake Placid the same weekend as the 2021 Lake Placid Ironman.”
While editing, I see the sentence starts with “I.” With rearranging, I can begin the sentence with something other than a singular, first-person pronoun while letting the sentence still communicate what it needs to.
It’s a small change, easy to make, but one with huge potential.
Instead of beginning a sentence with a stop word, in this case, “I,” the sentence invites the reader to continue. Doing so reduces the chance the reader will click away and will instead finish reading the piece.
One small tweak for writers, one giant leap for readers
Some of the best writing contains our experiences and lessons learned, but that doesn’t mean we have to start sentences with singular, first-person pronouns, such as “I” and “my.”
These pronouns operate as stop words, encouraging readers to stop reading our writing.
We fail as writers when people don’t finish reading what we write. And having readers abandon our online content can negatively impact our organic search traffic.
But by limiting the sentences we start with singular, first-person pronouns, we can increase the likelihood that readers will stick with our writing until the end.
Write your first draft without considering your singular, first-person pronoun use. Then, when editing your draft, rework any sentences starting with words such as “I” and “my.”
The more you make these edits, the sooner you’ll include fewer sentences starting with singular, first-person pronouns in your first drafts. It’s a slight shift, but one that can have a massive impact on how readers engage with your writing.
Include fewer sentences beginning with “me” and “I,” and you’ll have more people reading your work from beginning to end.