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I have observed that I often address the reader in my essays to lay down a point. To give you an example, I'll write:

You can utilize every productivity hack that's out there, and still be back to square one when your initial excitement wears off.

which can also be written as:

When the initial excitement for the productivity hack wears off, it often results in being back to the square one.

The above example avoids addressing anyone. Another form could use generic addressing like, "people", "person", etc.

It might be a matter of taste but I get a feeling that talking to reader is something that I don't come across often in the articles I read everyday. Is it something that is frowned upon and should be avoided?

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  • The 2nd option tends to ride a little more on the edge of professionalism. That is, it sounds more formal and removes a sense of connection and replaces it with being informative. Both are valid usage and I think it mostly boils down to the editor on which they will allow to be published or not. I know when I was in school, the second option was how we had to write for our essays which I believe is also true for scientific articles and studies.
    – ggiaquin16
    Jul 31 '17 at 3:08
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    I'm not a native english speaker, but the first example sounds like a normal impersonal form in the english language, rather than a specific address to the reader.
    – FraEnrico
    Jul 31 '17 at 15:36
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No, it is not eccentric at all. As I am sure you can tell from reading your two examples, the first is livelier and much easier to read -- and that is 95% of the argument in any question of style. But the use of the second person in any work that is discussing things that the reader might do has become very common in recent years.

The initial impetus for this is that the second person is gender neutral, so when people started to raise objections to the use of "he" to refer to any human person, it gave the writer an out without getting into debates about the probity of the singular use of "they". But the use of the second person in these cases also tends to make for simpler, livelier, more personal writing, all qualities that have become increasingly prized over the years.

Finally, it is worth noting that the use of second person is not necessarily a direct address to the reader. There is such a thing as the general "you" as a way of addressing the human condition generally. "When you go to the south pole, it is generally a good idea to wear a hat," does not imply that that reader themselves is going to the south pole, it is simply a way of expressing a general truth about the advisability of warm clothing in cold climates. (We used to use "one" for these cases "When one goes to the south pole ..." but that usage is entirely moribund today.)

So, yes, you should feel free to use the second person whenever it produces simple, livelier prose that is easier to read and understand.

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You have to ask two questions before you start to write: who is the audience, and what effect do you want to produce in them? In nonfiction, your audience wants to learn something, so the goal is to inform.

Before the Internet, you could get away with dry, passive prose, as long as you covered the material. Today, though, another goal for nonfiction is to draw in your readers. Call it entertainment if you must, it's what can set you apart.

With second person, you are addressing the reader directly. You are involving him/her in your subject matter. The reader becomes an active part of the process of sharing information rather than a passive recipient--or at least gets the illusion of it.

On the other hand, your audience may be administrators or scientists. They could perceive that you're talking down to them, so second person is not recommended.

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I believe you are mixing two different problems here.

One thing is to use an impersonal form: "if you want to fight, expect to bleed", or "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose". Here you're not talking to a specific listener, but you use a generic impersonal form. It is a common english language practice, as I see it.

The other thing is whether you should break the fourth wall - to use a drama expression - and address directly the reader. There are many cases when this happens. It all depends on whose voice you decide to adopt when writing, whose point of view is it, and who is the ideal reader in the fiction.

For instance, The Bethroted (by A. Manzoni) and Pinocchio (by C. Collodi) directly engage the reader. They both assume that the story is told by someone to someone else, and play on this mechanism. Also Moby Dick is told by the protagonist in a very informal tale to a casual listener. "Call me Ishmael", he begins, to catch the audience's attention, and implying "... and I will tell you a story".

It all depends on the point of view you choose, and the fictional audience the story is told to.

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I used to do movie reviews for my college news paper as well as opinion articles related to pop-culture (usually in a top ten style list, and with a bit of explination for my choices). My writing style for both tended to be a bit more loose with that than my more serious writing because I was attempting humor and the breaking the fourth wall style is fun when I'm giving my opinions and a fun way for me to address likely counter arguements ("Now I know what you're going to say..."). I also knew the bulk of the paper's readership was very nerdy, so if I'm defending say... The theme to "Star Trek: Enterprise" was one of my favorite TV shows, it's a great way to acknowledge that I know this isn't going to be taken seriously by the readers ("Don't throw away the paper yet, I have a good reason!").

Again, this depends on the reader and the nature of the article. Review articles, Advice pieces, and general silly works are much more permitted by this. I would never write like that on a term paper or one that was published by in actual news (We were in Central Florida, so Disney company news was treated as major local news in the area. I had established an early rep as being the "Disney Guy" so there were announcements I did have to put on my serious hat for.).

From feedback, the best gags in my articles were the ones where I broke the fourth wall because, again, knowing my audience, I had a tendancy to time it write so yeah, I did know what you were thinking.

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