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Writing: The elements of voice


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Voice is one of the most challenging aspects of content development, especially for writers working withing a brand or corporate environment where a persona or institutional voice exists. When we deconstruct voice, it becomes easier to work with. Here's how we do that at The Word Factory:

IDEAS: Align content with intent.

Knowing our purpose — what we want people to think, feel and/or do after they consume our content — and explicitly stating it spurs results.

  • Informational/educational content: When we write to inform or educate, our goal is to communicate information as accurately as possible, not to lead to a particular thought or action. [A strategy for clarifying ideas]
  • Persuasive content: When we write to persuade, our goal is to influence a specific way of thinking, a particular feeling or a deliberate action. We are most effective when the purpose is clearly stated.

Here's a handy strategy for defining the purpose and/or call to action for content.

WORD CHOICE: Choose the right words.

We get deeper engagement and better results when we communicate in the language of our audience. To make sure we’re “heard,” we need to “sound” like someone the audience trusts, believes and wants to hear from. The words we choose are the physical expression of our voice. The “right” vocabulary is at the audience’s knowledge level. If we aim too high — or too low — the audience loses interest, and we lose our opportunity to communicate.

Use clear language. Focus on direct, clear and easy to understand wording even when communicating about complex topics.

Doctors who take on risk contracts must secure that risk with their salaries. If they’re good at case management — meeting the arbitrary targets set by the insurer — they might make a surplus to share among themselves. If they’re not, their salaries go down. There are no cash reserves to help them meet the deficiency, except their personal bank accounts.

Explain technical terms and jargon. Sometimes we can’t avoid using technical terms and jargon. Define these clearly unless the audience has the necessary knowledge to understand them. [More on that in this NY Times video]

This scenario creates an income gap, a situation when guaranteed income sources like Social Security or a pension don't cover the expenses you have.

SENTENCE FLUENCY: Vary patterns and lengths to create rhythm and flow.

The structure of sentences and their various lengths create the “sound” of content, which elicits responses in the audience. Too many sentences of the same type and length create a monotonous voice that few want to listen to. Too many short sentences of the same type feels choppy. And both cases reduce the audience’s ability to comprehend the content. Experiment with different sentence structures and lengths to create the most effective tone and flow.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Include clear ideas and relevant details
  • Use simple language
  • Deploy jargon sparingly and only when appropriate
  • Vary sentence patterns and structure to create “flow”

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