Stop Writing Third-Person Autobiographies
Want to sound important? Ditch the fake third-person bio and get comfortable writing about yourself.
It’s time to put an end to third-person autobiographies. Everyone knows you wrote that “biography” yourself.
Let me make something clear: I’m not talking about actual biographies. If someone else wrote about you, great. If you wrote about you and pretended that someone else wrote about you — we need to talk.
Stop believing that a third-person bio legitimizes you.
You know what actually legitimizes you? You do. You legitimize yourself by using your own voice. Why should your introduction to the world be written in a stranger’s voice?
Ditch the third-person autobiography and learn to be comfortable writing about yourself.
Ditch it on LinkedIn, ditch it on your website, and ditch it everywhere else that you interact with followers, subscribers, customers, and potential employers.
People already know it’s you behind the screen. At best, the third-person autobiography demonstrates a lack of comfort with self-promotion. At worst, writing about yourself in the third person distances you from the very people that you wish would spontaneously reach out to you.
This “fear of self-promotion” is particularly common amongst women, though we certainly aren’t the only ones who downplay our achievements. “A new study suggests men are far more at ease with self-promotion than women, which contributes to a broad disparity in promotions and pay,” according to The Harvard Gazette.
Writing a third-person autobiography is an easy way to shy away from self-promotion. We’ve all done it, and we need to stop.
Let’s look at an example. Which version of me would you be more likely to reach out to?
Keri Savoca (BA, BM, MFA, MA) is a technical writer and a site reliability engineer. Her primary responsibility is to work with software engineers to write documentation for anything a firm builds. At the moment, she is working with GCP, Terraform, and a wide range of infrastructure tools. Keri also writes the sample code that appears in internal and external documentation.
Hi! I’m Keri. I’m a technical writer and a site reliability engineer. At the moment, I’m working with GCP, having fun with Terraform, and exploring a wide range of other infrastructure tools.
Sometimes I write the sample code that appears in internal and external documentation. I also write a lot of technical content for people who are learning to code. My goal is to make complex information easy to understand. I’m like an expert explainer.
Let me give you a hint: the first one isn’t the one that makes people connect with me on LinkedIn.
While you’re at it, let’s ditch this first-person plural nonsense, too. There is no “we” if you did something yourself.
If you run a sole proprietorship, or if you’re a freelancer, why does your website say things like “we want our clients to be satisfied”? Who is “we”? You mean… you (singular)?
“Our team will respond within 24 hours!” What team? You?
“We’ll get back to you!” Who will? You?
Why are you trying to sound bigger than the one-person operation that you are? Having a team doesn’t legitimize you. You should be taking credit — proudly — for the things that you do alone.
We didn’t do anything. You did.
Say it with me, emphasis and all: We didn’t do it. I did.
Unless you actually have a team, stop using “we”. You’re just giving imaginary people credit for your accomplishments.
If you’re having trouble conceptualizing this, just imagine if people wrote about themselves in the third person on dating apps, and then added We want you to be satisfied! at the end.
Ultimately, this isn’t only about third-person autobiographies. It’s about everything we write about ourselves: biographies, cover letters, website content, portfolio descriptions, LinkedIn summaries, and so on.
It’s time to get comfortable talking about yourself in the first person SINGULAR (not plural). Here’s how.
1. Cut the technical or business jargon.
NO: Deadline-focused multi-industry product manager with extensive experience meeting company OKRs.
YES: I’ve been a product manager for 8 years, most recently in the tech sector, where I lead a team of six.
2. Stop using so many adjectives.
NO: Extensive experience in technical writing with years of hands-on, multidisciplinary foci.
YES: I’ve been collaborating with engineers to write technical documentation for 10 years.
3. Talk about your process, but don’t downplay what you do.
4. Take credit for the things you will do alone.
NO: We will get back to you within 24–48 hours.
YES: I’ll send you a quote within 24–48 hours.
5. Take credit for the things you already did alone.
NO: We build this tool with our clients’ needs in mind.
YES: I developed this tool to make it easier to view your daily stats.
6. Be approachable, or people won’t approach you.
NO: Questions? Please fill out this contact form.
YES: Reach out to me on LinkedIn. Let me know that you found me through my blog.
It’s difficult to write about yourself. I get it. This isn’t an issue that exists only in third-person autobiographies — but I believe in measurable, incremental changes. In order to practice writing about yourself, you need to start somewhere. Start with the biography. Do it today.
technical writing • DevOps • author of Diary of an SRE • kerisavoca.com