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Background: My understanding about first person / third person is this: choose a voice and maintain it throughout the piece. However, when writing marketing-type information, I find myself switching back and forth between 1st ("we", "our") and 3rd ("ABC Organization", "The Organization"). I like to use 1st person because it feels personal and informal, but using third person allows me to (a) avoid sounding like I am bragging[1], (b) reconnect the reader with our name, and (c) speak about our historical activities -- the "we" now were not part of the "we" in 1980. (When I do this, I don't ever call the organization "it" and then switch back to "we" or "our")

The question is: Is it absolutely unacceptable to do this? Is this a matter of opinion, or a generally accepted rule among writers?

Examples:

  • ABC is in the process of expanding our monitoring and evaluation plan.
  • ABC is a relief and development organization established in 1973. Our mission is to...

[1] Saying "we do this awesome thing" and "we completed this awesome project" too often conveys an arrogant mentality.

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Stylistically I think example #1 is beyond the pale. As a Brit, I'd be quite comfortable with ABC are in the process of expanding our monitoring, but I think Americans usually refer to organisations in the singular, so maybe they wouldn't like that. But I don't have a problem with is or are in #2, because the switch to our comes in a separate sentence. –  FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 17:05
    
@FumbleFingers - I've always been thrown by seeing British marketing pieces refer to a company in the plural, since in American usage a corporate entity is treated as an individual. The "are" to you probably seems just as odd as the "is" does to us. –  sXe Oct 1 '11 at 1:14
    
@sXe: Neither usage seems odd to me. Probably I side more with the plural by default, because a lot of the time I think of companies/political groups/etc. as "collective" entities. But it does simplify things to see them as singular things sometimes. I'm quite used to seeing/using both forms - my only problem is with OP's example #1 using singular is and plural our in the same sentence. Perhaps if you always and only think of companies as singular that doesn't bother you, but it makes me wince a bit. –  FumbleFingers Oct 1 '11 at 2:55
    
@FumbleFingers - It sounds kind of funny, but the wincing wasn't there for me: when you talk about the collective effort of a team you're on, it's first person plural, but when you refer what was accomplished by the company, it's third person singular. In which case, this isn't just a question about person as it is person and number--good point. –  sXe Oct 1 '11 at 3:50
    
@sXe: Presumably nobody would say "ABC is expanding my plan". My point is if I used "is" I'd feel compelled to follow with "..its plan". If I wanted to convey that I/we were part of the company I'd have to start with "are" to agree with the plurality of "...our plan". I'll raise this on EL&U to see if others feel the same (and specifically, whether Brits are more likely to agree with me). –  FumbleFingers Oct 1 '11 at 13:54

3 Answers 3

Such choices are a matter of stylistic judgement, depending on the intended readers, the topic and the means of expression. There can thus be no ready judgement on acceptability which will apply on all occasions. However, for what it’s worth, in your first example the reader might be surprised to find ‘our’ coming so quickly on the heels of ‘is’. In the second, on the other hand, the break provided by the full stop allows a smoother transition. Others, however, might see it differently.

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In writing nothing is absolutely unacceptable. Absolutely nothing.

You can switch your POV as often as you wish. But if you want that your readers can follow you, it should be comprehensible, or let us say traceable, for them.

So you have to read your text with the eyes of your audience (or find test readers). The problem with your first sentence:

ABC is in the process of expanding our monitoring and evaluation plan.

That sounds like there is a company ABC out there, which helps you and your company (let's call it XYZ) to expand your evaluation plan. But if I understand you correctly, then ABC and XYZ are one and the same company. Don't confuse your readers (in this case me; I really hate that).

In your second sentence the relation is more obvious to me. That "ours" refers to "ABC" looks like the most logic interpretation. So go with it if you like.

All that said, I guess that keeping the right POV is more crucial in fiction writing than in marketing stuff. I could be wrong, because I try to ignore marketing stuff (Yeah, shame on me).

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I think the assumption is that this sentence is in the middle of a press release or a brochure from the ABC company, so there wouldn't be any confusion about XYZ doing the expanding on the behalf of ABC. –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 30 '11 at 19:22
    
Maybe it is in the middle, @Lauren, maybe not. And that the press release is from ABC need not to be that obvious to the reader (it is rarely obvious to me, because I care first what it is about and then look at the company). They could refer to a partner, which is not that uncommon. –  John Smithers Sep 30 '11 at 19:27
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+1 for "nothing is absolutely unacceptable." That comment shifted my perspective. Thank you. –  Brian Dant Sep 30 '11 at 20:50

While I'm usually fanatic about number agreement (like not using "they" as a gender-netural third-person-singular pronoun in English), Example #1 actually doesn't bother me. I think it's because I'm reading "ABC" as a collective noun, referring to all the staffers (who are the ones who actually have the opinions, did the deeds, and won the awards).

"ABC is expanding our mission" is sort of short for "ABC's executives, staff members, and volunteers are expanding the mission of the organization." Otherwise you start running into the Rufus Xavier Sasparilla problem.

I edit a lot of business copy, and I see the "ABC is expanding our mission" construction all the time, so it wouldn't make me blink.

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