Handling Shifts in Person

To understand what "person" means when using pronouns, imagine a conversation between two people about a third person. The first person speaks using "I, me, my ... "; the second person would be called "you"; and when the two of them talked of a third person, they would say "he, she, they .... " You'll never forget the idea of "person" if you remember it as a three-part conversation.

First person I, me, my, we, us, our
Second person you, your
Third person he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, their, one, anyone

You can use all three of these groups of pronouns in a writing project, but don't shift from one group to another without good reason.

Here is an excerpt with pronoun-shift problems:

Few people know how to manage their time. One need not be an efficiency expert to realize that one could get a lot more done if he budgeted his time. Nor do you need to work very hard to get more organized.

This revision improves on the original (although the overuse of one in a paragraph make it sound overly formal and leads to the necessity of avoiding sexism by using s/he or he or she, etc.)

Everyone should know how to manage his or her time. One need not be an efficiency expert to realize that a person could get a lot more done if one budgeted one's time. Nor does one need to work very hard to get more organized.

But this revision is the best:

Many of us don't know how to manage our time. We need not be efficiency experts to realize that we could get a lot more done if we budgeted our time. Nor do we need to work very hard to get more organized.

Another way of handling this same excerpt is to use you, which is typical of instruction writing:

Like many others, maybe you don't know how to manage your time. You need not be an efficiency expert to realize that you could get a lot more done if you budgeted your time. Nor do you need to work very hard to get more organized.

Adapted with permission.