When you are writing in creative mode, you often rely on pronouns to keep your narrative moving: “He did this,” “She did that,” “They ran there,” “I found out.” That’s fine. It’s more important to keep your writing momentum up than it is to get every sentence just right.
When you go back and edit, however, you should check your pronoun percentage. Ideally it should fall somewhere between 4% and 15%. Any more than this and your writing can feel dull. This is especially so with initial pronouns – those at the start of the sentence. Your initial pronoun percentage should be under 30%.
While every writer is different, having a benchmark for pronoun use can be useful to work out when you might need to go back and reread sections of your text with a direct focus on pronouns. Of course, calculating these percentages yourself while reading would take too long to be worthwhile, but now you don't have to!
How to Use the ProWritingAid Pronoun Check
When you run the Pronoun Check, a menu will appear to the left of your screen with a rundown of your pronoun usage.
You can see:
- How many initial pronouns (pronouns at the beginning of sentences) you've used
- How many pronouns you have used throughout your document
- What percentage of your document is pronouns
- What percentage of your sentences begin with pronouns
The first place to look is your pronoun percentages. In the report above, while overall pronoun usage is good, initial pronoun usage is a little high.
You can use the menu to manipulate the highlights within your document to only show initial pronouns. To do this, hover over 'Pronouns Used' and click on the Eye icon. This will hide the highlights for every pronoun except initial pronouns. Here's how that looks in the editor:
To turn these highlights back on, just click on the eye again.
Now you can focus on your initial pronouns. The editor won't tell you how to replace your pronouns. How—and whether—you edit your pronouns is up to you.
Let's look at how you could bring that percentage down.
How is the Pronoun Check Useful?
Pronouns are some of the most commonly used words in the English language. It's easy for our brains to register their meaning but mostly skip over them. Make all of your words work towards creating rich prose or informative content for your readers by making sure all of your pronouns are necessary.
For Fiction Writers
Take a look at this paragraph:
John turned the corner and saw Doris marching down the road toward his house. She looked like she was angry. He wondered what it was that he had done this time. He tried to remember if he had cut his lawn and turned off his sprinkler. He sometimes cut through his back yard just to avoid running into her.
Pronoun percentage 17.8%. Initial pronoun percentage 80%
This paragraph makes sense. When you're proofreading, you might leave it as-is. But the high initial pronoun percentage tells us that it may need some work.
Now we'll change some of those pronouns.
John turned the corner and saw Doris marching down the road toward his house. What had he done to make her angry this time? She loved being the first to point out his gardening lapses. Had he cut the lawn? Had the sprinkler been left on? Sometimes he cut through the back yard just to avoid running into her.
Pronoun percentage 13.6%. Initial pronoun percentage 17.7%
Changing the initial pronouns gives us a clearer insight into the character's mind without needing to jump into his perspective. Without stopping to think about initial pronoun usage, we'd be left with a paragraph that makes sense but that plods from A to B to C without providing much interest.
Use ProWritingAid’s Pronoun Check to find those areas in your text that would benefit from a reduction in pronouns.
For Content Writers
You want your content to be relatable. You use pronouns to establish a relationship with your reader so you can get your ideas across to them. You start opening each sentence with you, and using you repeatedly throughout your writing to keep the rapport you have developed going.
I'm sure you get what I'm going for here.
Using too many pronouns in your content can distract readers and make it harder for them to find information in an article. A well placed 'you' can draw your reader in or make them think about what you're saying in terms of their own experiences. But using it too many times comes off as amateurish.
Run your articles through ProWritingAid to check your pronouns aren't out of control.
Pronouns will play a different role in your academic writing depending on where you are studying. For many students, the advice is to not refer to yourself in the first person in your essay. Running your essay through the pronoun check will allow you to spot rogue pronouns that have slipped through the net.
Pronouns are a necessary part of most writing styles. But being aware of how often you are using them will help you to produce better writing.
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