Better to Write in Second or Third Person for Scenarios?

Better to Write in Second or Third Person for Scenarios?

February 19, 2023 Off By JR

When it comes to scenario-based learning approaches, Christy’s blog is often a first stop for me to see what she’s either experienced or dug up from literature. This particular question has come up from time to time working on scenarios:

Is it better to write in the second or third person for scenarios? Christy offers a few thoughts on the subject (I’m just quoting short pieces, make sure to check out her full post).

Second person perspective means writing the scenario so “you” are doing the action and making the decisions…A second person perspective also means you may not have to create too many details about the character; you let the learners project themselves into the story…However, it can also feel inauthentic and jarring to some users.

Writing in a third person perspective in a scenario means you focus on a character you create, rather than the learner. This gives you more control over the protagonist so you can represent them in a specific way…[and] can overcome some of the resistance of “Oh, I wouldn’t do it that way.”

I can’t find it right now, but I recall seeing something a little while ago where there was an interactive (made with Articulate I believe) where the user had to select an avatar. There was some commentary there where there was a mismatch between picking that avatar and then using the second-person language of you. For example, it was something like you took on the role of Brad (or whoever) and chose what they looked like for the scenario, but then the language changed to “you did this”. My guess is that either the second or third-person perspective is about the same effectiveness, but mixing the two is a little detrimental to the experience.

While research supports using a conversational tone (including using second person), everything I’ve seen in the research on writing for elearning is related to a narrator style, rather than scenarios. I’m not sure we can stretch that research to firmly recommend a second person view in all scenarios though.

Reading through the post, got me thinking about different video game approaches. I enjoy games in either perspective – Skies of Arcadia was one of the first games I played that gave branching decision points that affected your final leadership status as a pirate captain while maintaining a third-person view perspective. In fact, many games I’ve been playing as of late have been third person, which gives me the best overview of the world and the best angles to interact with objects. However, switching that view to first person for specific tasks is available in other games.

The importance of perspective may be most important for the type of interactions and tasks in the scenario, which I think aligns with Christy’s conclusion too.

Which perspective do you write your scenarios from?

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

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