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I want to explain a psychological and behavioural process to someone via email.

I start off in first-person and speak to them in second-person, but what do I use when I want to explain a process abstract from either of us?


"... the person is aware of..."

"... the person uses..."

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Welcome to Writers! A suggestion: The more specific you are about the document you're working on, the better the answers will be. Can you tell us what the process is you're describing and why you think it might be difficult to explain? Better yet would be to provide us a draft of the email, if that's possible. – Neil Fein Jan 31 '13 at 19:35
Sorry I can't - it is to do with confidential patient information! – theringostarrs Feb 1 '13 at 1:10
up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you want to be cool and scientific, explaining a process, do it in third person. "The subject is, the subject feels". This is the professional mode, very impartial but neither the easies to write nor the easiest to understand.

If that's a colleague though, feel free to use whatever you feel like, First person, second, third, first introducing the actors: "Assume you are a woman in her 60s with two adult daughters... Facing the situation, you feel...". Use whichever is comfortable.

The situation is different when you describe a task, instruct. The default mode is second person, either commands ("Open the box, take the key") or simple present ("You open the box, then you take the key"). An interesting option when you don't want to sound commanding, just inform, is use of first person plural: ("We open the box, then we take the key") - again, use whichever fits your audience best.

(note there is an option for instructable to be impersonal third person ("one opens the box and takes the key") but in my personal opinion it's utterly horrible.)

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Yeah, I begun writing it in impersonal third person as you mention in your last paragraph, and I agree that it is horrible! – theringostarrs Feb 1 '13 at 1:06
Agreed. Brings to mind "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." – Zayne S Halsall Feb 10 '13 at 11:14

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