How to choose a voice for your writing
If you have ready my other blog posts, you are probably:
- familiar with my sometimes-casual voice
- tired of me saying that “everything depends on your audience”
- my mom
Why do I incorporate a casual voice for my blog posts? More importantly, how can you know what “voice” you should use? How do you know whether you should even consider using a “voice?”
You probably aren’t shocked to hear me say that your communication has a voice, whether you intend it or not—and, your voice is a meta-communication about your communication. So you might as well recognize that, and leverage it.
Copywriters have to be familiar with voice, and they hone that skill every day. Since this is a humble blog post, I’ll limit my discussion to some introductory points on the topic. What follows are some considerations that provide guidance and perspective on what a voice can do.
When you choose your voice, consider your:
1. Audience Trust
Yep, audience. They’re always there, and if they aren’t, then you can go home too. As long as you have their attention, you want to build and maintain their trust and their perception of your authority.
Your authority typically relies upon your content. Trust can be built through your content, but your audience is also more likely to trust a voice with whom they can relate. For instance, in that last sentence, I could’ve bit the bullet and said “a voice they can identify with,” because the grammarly construction I used there, albeit correct, will distance me from most audiences. Ditto the word “albeit.” But you are a writerly type, so I wrote for you. Never mind the shower of sentence fragments, and misuse of “ly”—writerly types have been doing that endearingly.
Anyway, that’s not to say that you should always use a “friendly” voice. “Friendly” can fail when communicating to executives, academics, researchers, and many others. The point is more to imagine yourself speaking to the person, phrasing things in a voice that elicits trust from them.
2. Audience Interest
Anyone reading your content starts out with an interest, but sometimes it’s worth adding an occasional aside, or something slightly unexpected, to keep them alert and engaged.
If there are a lot of people communicating on your topic, you might consider how your voice can help you be unique. It’s like considering what is unique about the point you’re making, but you’re considering what’s unique about the way you make your point.
I mentioned “identity,” but let me call out “originality” to say this: Sometimes, when you state things in a unique way, it can spark new ideas for you. This can lead to some valuable originality in your message itself, apart from your voice.
Some notes and caveats:
- Keep it natural. Do not force a voice that you cannot internalize and “make yours.” Most of us have a natural “casual voice,” and a “professional voice.” In most cases it’s best to stay pretty close to one of those, just fine-tuning things as you test them out.
- Funny? Hmm. Humor will not always work, and when it fails it can sink the whole ship. However, there are some casual environments or channels (like, debatably, blog posts) where standards are different from most business communications. In those cases, a complete lack of humor might put you at risk of seeming dry and uninteresting.
You can call that a standard if you like: Use humor only when the reward outweighs the risk. To weigh the risk and reward for a particular communication, consider your audience, communication channel, content, and goal.
As I said, always remember that your communication has a voice—whether you intend it or not. So envision your audience, practice your voice, and make sure you convey it appropriately.