Part of: Audiences, devices, channels
We, you, our, your, my
Last updated: 20 December, 2019
Following this helps people with:
time pressures: obvious meaning is easier to scan and comprehend
stress: when stressed it's harder to decipher complexity
multi-tasking: when distracted you need clear information
cognitive impairments: obvious meaning takes less cognitive load
Be clear who’s “speaking” through your web content, who’s being spoken to, and who else is referenced.
This makes it easier for your audience to understand things. They will be less familiar than you about, for example, partnerships and responsibilities. User-testing is always recommended.
If you think it's clear who "we" are, try that. Then test with users to find out if it is clear to them.
It might not be obvious who "we" is in all content. Someone could have arrived directly on the page from a Google search, or scanned the page and missed your explanation.
So, if it's not obvious, whenever you use "we", check you’ve used the full name of the organisation in that specific section.
"You" can be confusing for readers if the content is aimed at multiple audiences.
Contextual hints can help.
"As an applicant, you'll... "
"As a junior lawyer, you'll..."
If there's specific, unique information for perceived or established different groups of your audience, you could provide a sub-headed section for each group on the topic page.
But we do not recommend providing separate sections of pages for "different" audience groups. Your users may belong to more than one group: like a teacher who is also a parent.
Or the applicant may not have anyone else helping with their application, so they need to be able to access all the support information available.
It's better for all users to group by topic. If that suddenly seems like a long page, be more concise, consider a guide format or use design elements.
When you've made it clear who's who, stick with that. Do not be tempted to suddenly change from talking to the user as "you" and then labelling a tool, app or transaction with "my" to mean the user.
If the user is established "you", use:
"Your basket" not "my basket"
"Your music" not "my music"
"Your application" not "my application"
When a third party is heavily referred to in the content, in addition to the organisation whose website it is, using 'we' can become confusing.
'Comprehension of pronouns', SAGE Journals, 1980
GOV.UK Content design: planning, writing and managing content, UK Government website, 2016
'Is this my interface or yours?', John Saito, 2016
Writing for the web, Tone and Voice, Office for National Statistics web style guide, 2018