Finding Your Voice - voice, style and tone

Finding Your Voice – voice, style and tone

VOICE

Voice is your own. It’s your writing personality. It’s the coming together of style and tone - your ‘attitude’ and word choices, your language use and word choice, and how you go about making your points. Perhaps you already have a distinctive voice, but you might not. And even if you do, you might find you need to make concessions to align your writing with the style required for your brand, or the tone required for a particular piece of writing.

Many business writers never think consciously about their voice, but everyone has one.

With our own writers for example, I could give the same topic and instructions to 10 different writers, and if I didn’t request a particular type of ‘voice’ for the article, they would use their own. And when the articles came in for editing, I’m so familiar with their work I’d be able to tell after reading the first couple of paragraphs, which writer wrote each of the 10 articles. The way it flows, the pace and tone of the writing, a favouring of certain words, the use or avoidance of dashes and exclamation marks, and even the choices the writer has made in framing the story or argument – all of these little writing habits combined are strong enough to make the voice identifiable.

And it’s perfectly logical if you think about it, because if you were played a recording of 10 men or women you know well, each making a statement on an identical topic, it would be very easy for you to identify which voice belonged to which person – because you’d recognise the tone and pitch of their voice, their pace of talking, whether they tend towards a formal or casual tone, speak in short crisp sentences or tend to waffle.

So should you consciously think about your own voice? Is it something you need to consciously develop in a certain direction? Maybe. If the voice that comes naturally to you when you write doesn’t suit the style and tone you need to adopt for your brand or purpose, then you will want to pay close attention and identify any tendencies and habits that need adjusting.

STYLE Consider style as the brand policy element, or as the mechanical element. How will you do things? Larger organisations often have a ‘Style Guide’ which sets out how they want their writers to go about things. This helps ensure consistency when it comes to the overall voice – or personality or image – of the brand.


Style decisions are things like:

  • Will you use US or AU/UK spelling of words like organisation?
  • Will your paragraphs and sentences be long or short?
  • How will you capitalise headings and sub-headings?
  • Will you avoid clichés at all costs, or use them if they suit the tone and topic of a particular piece?
  • Will you use bullet points?
  • Is there a preferred article length?
  • Are dashes to be avoided – or are they just fine?
  • Should the writing be conversational or formal?
  • First person, second person or third person?
  • Will technical language be used or avoided?
  • And is there a preference for a particular tone.

TONE

Tone is similar to voice, because it involves the attitude and approach of the writing. And the attitude and approach will often come down to the stance you want to take on an issue, the impression you want to give, or the reader reaction you’re aiming for.

So your tone will change, based on what you’re writing, and why you’re writing it. Are you aiming to entertain, to educate, to criticise or to convince? It will also depend on your audience.

For example, three lawyers write an article on proposed changes to bail laws.

The first lawyer isn’t very enthusiastic about the changes, so his tone his highly critical, and he almost sounds angry. Because he wants his readers to feel the same way. As you might guess, he’s a criminal lawyer.

The second lawyer also seems to be mostly criticising the changes, but the tone is very different. It’s less emotive, and quite formal. More like an essay. That’s because he’s writing in his capacity as a university law professor, so his aim is to be logical and objective, and present a sound argument.

And our third lawyer’s tone is formal, positive, but not in an emotive way, and perhaps just a bit dictatorial. He works for the government department that proposed the changes, and his aim is to convince the community that the changes make perfect sense and will reduce crime and improve community safety.

Let’s just do a quick summary of voice, style and tone.

Writing voice is the personality that comes through in your writing. It’s usually a personal style, but it might be influenced by style requirements.

Style is the combination of conscious choices about how the writing should be approached.

Tone is the attitude and approach chosen for an individual piece of writing, and is typically chosen to align with the topic, purpose, and audience for that piece of writing.

The next section is somewhat related to this. It’s all about taking a professional approach to your writing. We’ll be covering how the cite sources and quote others, and some basic copyright issues every writer should understand.


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