My colleague is learning to write blog posts. It’s fun for me to watch her writing improve with each post. But she’s struggling to understand the concept of a “writing voice”. Although it’s easy to understand intellectually, many writers still struggle with how to create a writing voice.
We had a Slack conversation the other day about creating a voice. Part of the conversation illustrates my colleague’s conundrum. She said…
“When I write, I am too direct. So we need to slow me down and make my written words more like I talk. I have a fun, cool voice when I’m speaking. How do I write that way? I want to write with that animation and light in my eyes, if you know what I mean.”
I do know what she means. So let’s cover some ways she, and you, can develop your voice in your writing, whether it’s for email, social media or anything else.
Who Talks Like That?!
To achieve an elevated level of engagement with one’s audience, one should repurpose their locution to be utilitarian. Engaging otherwise in sesquipedalian verbiage would be magnanimously deleterious to one’s anticipated outcome.
Technically those are words in the English language, all used correctly. But would it be easy for your audience to understand? If your audience is pretentious bibliophiles, sure. But not for many others.
Don’t write to impress. Just be “normal”. Just be yourself. Or if you’re writing on behalf of a company or organization, be human – don’t write like a robot. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five dollar word when a fifty cent word will do.”
Know Your Audience
Your writing should have your own style, infused with your personality. Sometimes, you may need to adjust your writing to match the audience’s expectations. An email to a friend should include different words than an email to your CEO. Advertising copy shouldn’t be written with the same tone as a data analysis report.
Most people would say, “That’s obvious. Of course I wouldn’t say ‘Hey, whassup!’ in an email to my CEO, like I would to a friend!” Good, then you’re beginning to understand how to find your voice.
A great illustration of a voice can be found in NASA’s Facebook posts. NASA is quite the science-oriented organization, full of exceedingly bright, over-educated people. But its Facebook page isn’t targeted to the PhD-level science community. The target audience is “normals”… people like me, and presumably you. The posts cover scientific topics, but the words and the tone… the voice… is that of an average, non-scientific person just talking about projects and events. Friendly, not-overly-scientific, enthusiastic, engaging.
The posts are written so normals can relate to and engage with them. For example, this post is about the moon reaching its “peak of fullness at 2:33 am EST.” The average person can understand what “peak of fullness” means. The post doesn’t say “the ecliptic longitudes of the Sun and Moon will differ by 180 degrees at 2:33 am EST.” (That’s another way to describe “peak of fullness”.)
And the “Be sure to bundle up” part… that’s what a regular person, not a scientist, would say to other regular people. Regular people are this post’s audience.
Before you write, whatever you write, determine who is your target audience. How do they think and speak? What are their expectations of you, or of your organization? What voice would they best relate to?
You may have to write with different voices depending on the type of document and the audience. Changing your voice to match the audience doesn’t make you fake or insincere. It’s how you make yourself more relatable to that audience.
Your Voice As an Alter Ego
You might think of your voice like an alter ego… your Batman to your every day Bruce Wayne, for instance. You can project a persona for yourself, or for your company or organization.
You’re the “helpful expert”. Or the “PhD with a personality”. The “empathetic, friendly voice”.
Whatever voice you decide upon, give it a persona. Give it a name if you want. Really bring it to life as an online part of yourself. It’s the “you” created to represent you or your company. This persona will help you stay consistent with your voice.
Many writers think they have to be some kind of “Man behind the curtain”, completely anonymous to the readers. But that isn’t always the case. It depends on the context.
If you didn’t notice before, scroll back up to the beginning of this post. You’ll see that I interjected myself into the post. I said “My colleague”, and “We had a Slack conversation”, and “I do know what she means.” I’m a real, relatable person talking directly to my audience. I shared a real-life event. Ideally my audience can relate to an actual person’s situation that their author is involved in, better than anonymous abstract situations or academic hypotheticals.
Coming out from behind the proverbial curtain and adding your personal insights and experience is one way to build your voice. If it fits into the context, let your readers relate to you personally. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, or funny, or candid, or even weird.
If you don’t already have one, work to develop a voice in your writing. It should be targeted to your audience, authentic, human and, when it fits in context, personal. Your voice should be consistent throughout your writing, and it should engage your audience. Your voice is you.