Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 5
Geri’s question: It seems to me that having a writing ‘style’ is all about finding your voice as a writer. What thoughts do you have about this statement?
When I read that question, the Concrete Blonde lyrics: “And if I had the choice/I’d take the voice I got/’Cause it was hard to find,” popped into my head.
“Finding your voice” shouldn’t be hard to do, because you’ve got a voice as a person. You use it every day. You use it to share stories and ideas. You use it to convince people to see things your way. Why shouldn’t that be your voice as a writer? But we seem to be conditioned that the voice we’ve got is not the right voice for writing.
I’m going to quote William Zinsser, who said about voice: “My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone.” He’s talking about non-fiction writing here, not organizational communication. But the principle is the same.
Here’s how I found my voice — I began to write like I talk. Fortunately, I don’t write like I think – then I’d be all over the place. But I write like I talk. My friends and co-workers will read something of mine and tell me that they’ve heard my voice in their heads. In some cases, that freaked them out.
Yes, I said earlier that writing like I talk got me in trouble. That’s because I didn’t edit what I wrote after I “said” it.
What we need to do is refine our voice. Because I talk like I think all too often(for evidence, find the video of me on DHTV’s COMM300 Organizational Communication class), I need to edit myself when I write. This is where we often lose our voice – our editing becomes a sort of censorship. We try to sound like someone else – our writing instructor, our favorite author, our boss. So our writing becomes unrecognizable as our own.
But as you edit your material, applying your own voice can help you if you do it properly. For starters, proofread your material — aloud.
Read your message aloud (whisper it to yourself if you don’t want your cube mates to hear, but the words must pass through your lips and your ears) to catch mistakes and things that don’t “sound right.”
- Have you ever been talking to someone and realized you were rambling? If you ramble in your written material, you’ll catch on to that.
- Have you ever been trying to convince someone who just doesn’t get it, and as you listen to what you’re saying you realize that you’re leaving key information out? If your written material contains such lacunae, you’ll catch on to that.
Reading your message aloud also helps you pick up on your “tone.” How many of you have heard the maxim that people understand most of what you say by how you say it? If your voice isn’t part of your written communication, people often insert the tone they think you’re using. If you read your message aloud, you can often avoid your reader’s tendency to insert a tone you didn’t mean.
There’s one more thing about your voice as a writer: Consider the format.
Email, in this Information Age, needs to be short and to the point. If there’s an action that is needed to be taken, I include that action within the first paragraph. If there’s a lot of information to be shared, I break it up into bullet points. If there are multiple points I’m trying to make, I label them.
For longer documents I tend to follow the introduction/main points/conclusion format that we’re more familiar with, although I recognize they’ll be skimmed, so I use headings to help the reader focus wherever he wants to focus.
In other words, sure, you’ve already got your distinct voice. You’re going to need to edit it, to pare it back a bit, but all the same, allow it to guide what you say.
Concrete Blonde, True
“If I had the choice…” begins at 1:00.
This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were: