This is in the non-fiction space. I'm writing a book with a colleague. Throughout the book, there are times when we refer to individual experiences; for example, in one place I talk about a class that I teach.

What is the best/most accepted way to make that clear in the writing? What I have right now is (pretending our names are Alice and Bob)...

"For example, I (Alice) teach a class on competitive underwater basketweaving. When I teach that class, I start with basketweaving, then move it underwater."

The only alternatives I can think of would be..

"For example, Alice teaches a class on competitive underwater basketweaving. When she teaches that class, she starts with basketweaving, then moves it underwater."


"For example, Alice teaches a class on competitive underwater basketweaving. When I teach that class, I start with basketweaving, then I move it underwater."

The first feels clunky because of the parenthetical aside to clarify who the speaker is at that moment (also, our publisher didn't like this way of writing it). The second feels clunky because it results in me referring to myself in third person for a while. The third feels clunky because it shifts between third-person and first-person.

What's the best way to accomplish this? (And by 'best' way, I mean most accepted: if one of the ways that feels clunky to me is the accepted way, that's fine by me, I just want to follow convention)

  • Hi David, welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. This is a nice first question. Thanks for contributing, good luck and happy writing! – linksassin Sep 24 '20 at 14:52
  • Thanks @linksassin! – David Sep 24 '20 at 15:06


First, let me say non-fiction isn't my area. But the books I've read where they keep borrowing substantial direct experiences from contributors usually present the whole statement in some kind of clearly delineated box, then introduce separately or follow each up with a notation of who said it. Or you can try to combine a person's statements and be introduced, like having a chapter for each voice.Either way, people readily see the section is a quote, and aren't mistaking it for just more text. Plus, you are still giving the content and identifying the speaker without interrupting the narrative. Our quote box is a good example.

"I could only manage to walk so far in a day, so each day I started off and tracked my journey on a map so I could be sure toe end up at a hostel." - Ted, world explorer

When I've seen people frequently referred to, and the reader is already familiar with Ted, this is pretty clear. Or you can introduce the person first if it is critical to give context in advance, like thus:

Jenny, a schizophrenic, had many powerful hallucinations that she was unable to distinguish from reality.

"My own parents kept me locked up, and I was never allowed out. The visions came to me more and more because I had nothing else to stop them or filter. No one seemed interested in helping me. I started believing my parents were Nazi stormtroopers, trying to ship me off to a concentration camp."

There may be a technically ideal way to do this, and if so follow that. I've seen it done like this, especially if someone is infrequently quoted.

I hope this sounds clear, and was helpful. If it flows well for you, that is what's critical. A publisher may reformat everything you do, and if so, don't stress.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.