Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Find the right voice, part of Writing in Plain English.
- Yes, you have a speaking voice but your writing also has a voice. Let's first briefly examine the speaking voice. How do you get people to listen to you? Or what makes you want to listen to other people? Voice tone for one thing. Is it a pleasant tone? A boring tone? A confusing tone? The words say one thing but the tone sends a different message and another element that makes you listen intently or stop listening completely are the words used.
Do you understand them? Are effective pauses used? And do the ideas connect clearly and smoothly? You not only listen to the words and tone. You watch the speaker's body language, the metacommunication. All the non verbal cues. Tone of voice, body language, gestures, facial expression that carry meaning that either support or contradict what the speaker's saying. Has anyone ever said to you, it's not what you said, it's how you said it? If so, he was referring to your metacommunication message.
So how does a speaking voice relate to a writing voice? Every point just made about the speaking voice also applies to the writing voice. Plain English writers use a positive tone, break the thought units into understandable segments, use words that the reader will understand and the words and the metacommunication support one another. Here's how. Let's start with the words, the language. As we have examined in various lessons, the written words used must be those that the reader understands. You should always be adapting to your readers' needs and the reader needs words that are understandable.
No babble. No unknown acronyms. No gobbledygook. No pompous flowery words or slang or cliched terms. Does your writing voice sound as though you're writing to a robot or to a human being seated across a desk from you? Would you say that legal these enclosed please find or would you say here are the forms you wanted? Your writing voice tone needs to sound natural. Another question to ask is how much my new detail is necessary? You again have to adapt to your reader by asking what your reader knows, what your reader needs to know and what your reader wants to know.
Giving too much detail or assuming the reader knows more than she does, both result in confusing the reader or causing the reader to lose focus as she tries to understand your message. Another voice element is the tone. Yes, written words do have tone. A couple of my other courses delve more deeply into tone. This is Writing Fundamentals and Business Writing Strategies. Does you writing voice have a positive or a negative tone? You aren't eligible for the 10 percent discount because your purchase didn't total 50 dollars or purchases of 50 dollars and over qualify for the 10 percent discount.
Your total was $46.77. Do you want to add another item of $3.23 or more so you'll receive the five dollar discount? In the first example, the voice tone is negative. Aren't eligible. Didn't total. That sentence qualifies as plain English but it isn't effective because the tone is likely to make us defensive, especially when the negative is preceded with you, an accusing tone. The second example has a positive voice tone. The negatives are eliminated and an alternative is offered.
In addition, your writing voice needs to show how your ideas connect. Remember, the reader wants the message to be plain, as in plainly clear. Your voice can achieve that by using transitional words. Another point, on the other hand, as a result, you don't leave the reader guessing how the ideas connect. What about these two sentences? All of our intramural sports teams are invited to attend the award banquet on March 19. The yearly company conference will be in Portland this year from June 12 to the 16th.
Again, short sentences, easy to understand words but the voice isn't plain because the reader wonders what the connection is between the award banquet and the conference. A lead in sentence would give a smooth voice. Here are two upcoming events to add to your calendar. And finally, what about that metacommunication? Making the words we use fit with the message. Here's an easy example. You just had a face to face meeting with a representative from a company trying to get your business.
After the meeting, that rep sent you this email message. Marla, thanks for meeting with me today to discuss how our products can meet your company's needs and the followup sales pitch continues. Certainly sounds okay but there's one minor metacommunication problem. Your name is Marsha. Not Marla. The message, you don't want my business enough to be sure you have my name correct. Obviously, not a strong voice. So plain English includes not only the message, the what you're communicating but also the voice, the how you communicate that message.
Be sure to use the right voice for your reader, your message and your purpose.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Explain how to make your writing clear, concise, and straightforward.
- Recognize the average reading level for most audiences.
- Identify commonly overused words.
- Recognize how strong verbs can help avoid passive writing.
- Explore the benefits of deleting extra words.
- Define “weasel words.”