News article

Why we think the first-person plural should be avoided (and why we might not always agree)

The use of the first-person plural can be extremely powerful.

Words like “we”, “us”, and “our” suggest collaboration, unity, and a shared purpose. But they can be dangerous too.

Donald Barthelme, the postmodernist American writer, highlighted this in the opening line of a 1976 short story.

“Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby… And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him.”

The story is an absurdist response to American society’s condoning of capital punishment, admittedly heavy subject matter for a financial services blog.

It does, however, hold some lessons about the pros and cons of the first-person plural.

Here are a few factors to consider.

The first-person plural can help create your brand identity

Using “we” on your company’s website creates a brand identity and a shared voice.

You want your clients to know who you are as a business, and what you stand for. That might mean declaring:

  • We are independent
  • We are Chartered
  • We are socially responsible.

At the Yardstick Agency, the discovery meetings we have with our clients allow us to understand what makes a business tick.

Our digital copywriters then use this information to create website copy that showcases to potential clients exactly what a business is and does.

This is an invaluable tool, but does a list of your business’s features tell your reader what these features mean for them?

Remember to sell the sizzle, not the sausage

Nick, the Yardstick Agency’s head of content, recently looked at the importance of advertising benefits.

Why you should sell the sizzle, not the sausage means not focusing on the features of your business, but on how its features can directly benefit your clients:

  • We are independent so you’ll have access to the whole of the market
  • We are Chartered so you can be sure we have high ethical standards
  • We are socially responsible so you know our values match your own.

Overuse of the first-person plural, without clear benefits to back up the features of your business, can risk neglecting your reader. Or worse still, alienating them.

Using your company’s “About us” page to set out your stall makes sense.

In your blogs and newsletter content, however, the Yardstick Agency’s personal finance copywriters will look to use the first-person plural sparingly.

If you do decide to use it, quickly follow up with the benefits to your reader.

You’ll rightly be proud to announce your new charity partner or a team member’s exam success. Just be sure your reader understands how it affects them: they are in the safe hands of a socially and community-minded company that employs highly qualified and dedicated individuals.

Remember that first and foremost, your readers want to know what’s in it for them.

In fact, aren’t we all in it for ourselves?

Be very clear about who “we” are

In Barthelme’s short story, Colby’s collective “friends” are named but the narrator never is. As a reader, do we feel drawn in and part of the collective “we” or does it shut us out?

The story’s use of the first-person plural raises some important questions:

  • Can we be sure of how many friends there are and whether they share the narrator’s views?
  • Could the narrator be putting their own views into the mouths of the others and how would we know?
  • Does “we” refer always to the group of friends, just one friend, or even to society as a whole?

You need to be very clear about who “we” is and think about how you inform your reader.

Consider the effect of the first-person plural across your business, from its website and blog content to your personal LinkedIn or Twitter account.

It might make more sense in certain departments, on certain platforms, or in different areas of your website, than in others.

As you’re writing, can you be sure you are speaking on behalf of a collective “us”? Are “we” really in this together? And what is “our” shared goal?

Get in touch

The use of the first-person plural can be extremely useful, but it has its limitations too.

You’ll need to carefully balance the need to cement your brand with selling benefits to your potential clients.

This can be a tricky juggling act, but thankfully, the Yardstick Agency is here to help. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable writers can help you to sell yourself and your benefits.

Contact us at or call 0115 8965 300 to see how we can help you.

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