Client emails, staff memos, company reports: they’re all in a day’s work.
But do you know how your writing sounds to the people you’re addressing?
Writer’s Digest blogger Cris Freese defines voice as more than just style. It’s “a unique way of putting together words” that derives from “a distinctive way of looking at the world.”
That’s a concern for professional storytellers, right? Wrong.
Voice is important in your everyday business writing because it’s what makes you unique. It’s also how you form connections with your audience regardless of whether they’re colleagues, employees, prospects or clients.
The more dynamic you make that connection, the better.
So how can you create that vibrant voice that transforms black marks on a page into a living thing that speaks — no, sings — from the page or screen?
Don’t write like you speak
Too many people think that what they commit to print can be identical to what they say.
It shouldn’t be. And here’s why.
Talking is messy. Sentences digress or go unfinished. Grammar gets mangled. Word choice is imprecise and redundant. “Um” and “yeah” pepper utterances, which can often sound like they came straight out of the Urban Dictionary.
Writing, on the other hand, demands clarity. The language must be razor sharp to cut through the vague generalities. And the words, ideas or paragraphs that detract? Off with their heads.
So unless you’re explicitly writing dialogue, make a distinction. Keep spoken language for speaking and writing language for writing.
See words as tools
Written language has limits in terms of how it can express meaning.
Unlike face-to-face verbal exchanges, writing can’t use hand, arm or other bodily gestures for emphasis. Nor can it rely on voice or facial expressions to clarify tone.
The words you see on that page or screen are all you get.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to these five elements of writing:
- word choice: Keep it simple. Think twice before using a word that’s more than three syllables.
- verbs: Make them action-packed. And don’t be afraid to surprise your reader. Instead of “they took their time,” try “they dawdled.” For “he laughed,” say “he guffawed. ”
- adjectives/adverbs: Use with care. You want to avoid obscuring your message.
- sentence length: Mix it up. Add punch with short sentences. Then relax into longer ones that explain or clarify an idea.
- tone: Watch out. Tone is the total effect of all your efforts. How do you want to come across emotionally? Read your writing aloud if you’re not sure.
Speak to your people
The word “communicate” comes from the Latin verb communicare, which means to “make common.” But too many writers forget that words exist to facilitate sharing.
The result? Messages and readers that get lost under massive word pile-ups.
To avoid this, it may help to think of writing as a conversation. It may seem one-sided, but really it’s not. You’re inviting a target audience to engage with and be part of a community — a “commons” made of words.
Remember: once your writing goes out into the world, readers won’t be able to ask what you meant.
A computer screen will be all you see as you type. But with your mind’s eye, imagine someone from your public in front of you. Give them faces, give them names.
Make them real.
Would you want to confuse that audience with disorganized ideas that don’t mesh? Waste their time with pointless fluff and chatter? Offend them with inappropriate language?
I didn’t think so.
Say no to giving up
A voice takes time and practice to develop. So don’t expect overnight results.
It helps to have models. Is there a writer, journalist or blogger whose prose you admire? Observe and mimic what that person does for practice. Then strike out on your own.
A strong voice is power. Find yours and you can use it to enhance everything from your everyday communications to your own unique brand.