Finding Your Writing Voice -

                   A powerful method for enhancing written communications


Unless you are a professional writer, you’ve probably never given a thought to the fact that what you write has a “voice.” What is it, exactly, and why should you care about “finding” it? By becoming conscious of your writing voice you will be able to master modifying it to suit varying situations thus allowing you to connect more powerfully with your reader.

Voice is the personality that comes across in your writing. It is the way you structure your sentences, the words you use, the level of your vocabulary. It is your style. For example, some people write in a very breezy fashion. Others, like today’s teenagers reared on instant messaging, write in short, terse sentences.

To better understand the concept of voice, look at the following ways of saying something as simple as the greeting hello. Just a few variations on punctuation and word choice can convey a certain feeling or personality. What “voice” do you hear coming across in these simple salutations?

Hi there!
Hey there...
Hey, you.
Hello, everyone!
 Oh, hello, dahhling...
Hi, dear.
Hello and welcome.
 Hey sweet thang...
Oh, HI.
Hi, bubby!!
Ummm.. hellooooo...?


Finding your voice

Everyone has at least 3 voices: The personal, the public, and the professional. These 3 dimensions to your writing personality can be very similar or quite dissimilar. And as we will see, sometimes it is to your benefit to alter your voice in order to achieve a desired result.

Look at some samples of your writing in each of these 3 categories. How similarly do you express yourself across them? How does your vocabulary differ or your sentence structure change? All of these will give you clues to the style of your voice.


Giving power to your voice

Just as an opera soprano would not be able to sing country western, so you too should stick with your basic style. It is the way your mind works. Once you’ve become aware of it and how you do change it to meet the communication needs of different messages, you can start doing modifications that will give your writing greater impact.

A good place to start is with your personal writing. Look at how you write e-mails to friends, how these differ with the level of intimacy or subject matter. If you write poetry or essays, compare how your works differ as your emotions or the topic changes. Your next step is to try to consciously alter your style. (No one has to read it but yourself!) Write in angry tones, or use flowery phrases, or substitute high brow words for the ones you usually use. Write a poem as if you were a politician addressing his constituency. Write an essay using the vocabulary and sentence structure of your teenager. What you will discover is that you CAN change how you write if you focus on the process.

Altering the public you

Now that you have developed a feel for changing your voice, focus on the public you: The writer of letters of complaints, missives to your landlord, requests for refunds from recalcitrant merchants. Do you find your writing a bit bland, shy, not brash enough? Now is the time to try to change your voice so that’s heard! Start by creating in your mind an image of the type of person who gets results. What kind of words do they use? How do they structure their sentences. In your daily readings of letters to the editor, articles in newspapers, and editorials, become aware of the style used. Then sit down and rewrite some of your old letters in a new style. Don’t stray too far from your personality or you’ll feel phony, just use some different vocabulary, put some authority in your paragraphs.

Put on your business suit

For those of you who do not write for a living, your business writing voice will probably be the hardest to cultivate. However, it is the most important if you want to be taken seriously and get results. Sometimes writing in the correct voice can make or break your career or sales efforts.

Unlike the previous two types of writing, when you write a report, a presentation, or for your company’s other communications, the reader’s needs must be uppermost in your mind. So start by identifying your target audience. Try to determine what vocabulary they use and are comfortable with. You want to set up a rapport with the reader and neither go over their head nor dumb down the message. Structure is also important. A good idea is to locate samples that were effective communications and use them to guide you.

You might wonder “So where is my voice in all this?” Business writing means checking your ego and your personal style at the door. Of course a “personal” style will come through but mainly through the information you present and in the sentence structure you choose. The hardest business writing is when your boss (or if you do this freelance, your client) gives you a sample of writing and expects you to replicate it in future documents. This is were your exercises in unearthing “voice” will come in handy!

Practicing the scales

Just as a singer must practice scales to cultivate her voice, so must you practice writing in different styles. One last tip, read your writing out loud. Even though you might not be crafting it to be read, oral reading, where the words are now fed through your ears into your brain, will help you pick out things that don’t flow easily, or aren’t clearly expressed.

Lastly, remember that changing your writing voice to suit the situation does not make you a “phony.” As long as your message is sincere and truthful, a change of voice can only enhance the communication process. A man is no more phony when he does a structured business letter than when he whispers sweet nothings into his wife’s ear! It’s just tailoring the message so the recipient can understand it.

                                                                          © 2006 Leona M Seufert