Writing With An Authentic Voice

When we read something that’s written in an authentic voice, it’s easy to tell. It demandsĀ our attention the same way we pay attention to a person who’s talking to us.

Think about what happens when someone talks to you directly: you pause, you pay attention to them and you listen to what they have to say. Why? Because that’s how humans communicate. When somebody speaks to us, we listen. And when we’re the ones talking, we expect to get the same courtesy.

Writing in an authentic voice feels like someone is talking to you directly — like a friend telling a story or a colleague explaining the details of a project. And because it feels like a personal interaction, it makes us act the same way we would with a real person in an actual conversation.

The Simple Answer

The simple answer to writing with an authentic voice is to compose your words such that it reads like an edited version of the way you speak. Sure, it’s more deliberate than the random sentences you come up with when making small talk at the checkout line, but it brings the full brunt of your personality and character in tow. Basically, it’s you talking on paper, minus the “ummm…,” “ahhh…” and other extraneous sounds you make when you’re actually speaking.

Why Strive For An Authentic Voice?

When you buy something from the internet, it’s not uncommon to receive an email from the e-commerce website which details the purchase you just made. Sure, you’ll sometimes glance at the checkout cart to verify you bought the right things, but you will never read any of the paragraphs of message (usually marketing-related) they include on there.

Now, imagine if the company actually took the time to write something that spoke in an authentic voice. Sure, there’s a chance you won’t even read a single sentence from it (most people just instinctively skip these confirmation emails). If you even read the first sentence, though, there’s a good chance the authenticity in the voice will hook you enough to give the entire email an actual pass.

Why is that? Mostly, because an authentic voice in writing is easy to read just like it’s easy to let someone finish what they’re saying instead of being rude and cutting them short. As such, we’d be more likely to spend the next 30, 60 or 90 seconds actually reading through the short message than if it read like it was composed and spewed out by automated email robot (which, sadly, is how majority of business emails sound like).

The authentic voice demands to be read mostly because it feels like someone genuinely talking to you. It’s not just a sales pitch, an argument or a piece of information appearing on your screen. Instead, it feels like a person communicating to you, causing you to respond in a socially acceptable manner (you give it time and attention).

As you can tell, developing an authentic voice is an extremely valuable skill for writers. Pull it off and you increase the chances of readers giving everything you put out a try. This is true whether you’re writing solicitation emails, long form sales letters or short features for the university paper. Without it, you’ll need to work a heck of a lot harder to come up with hooks that reel readers in.

Formal Can Be Authentic

Don’t mistake an authentic voice for being very casual, playful or lacking seriousness. It doesn’t need to be. Any type of writing can actually be done with an authentic voice. Contrary to what many seem to think, authenticity is not related to the type of material you’re writing or the subject you’re writing about.

Formal writing, like those you do in university or official workplace circulars, can be authentic — just make it sound like a person talking rather than getting caught up in showing off your knowledge of academic vocabulary or, worse, official-sounding buzzwords that distract from the message. Business emails, even bulk marketing ones, can be authentic. Take the time to write it in a way that genuinely attempts to build rapport with the reader and it doesn’t have to sound like a sleazy salesman trying to part you with your money. Same with user manuals and technical documents, lab reports and term papers, and so on.

There are all sorts of tone you can adopt in your writing — you can be formal, authoritative, funny, credible, friendly and a host of other things. Any of those will be even more effective when written with a voice that sounds like a genuine person talking.

How To Ensure Authentic Voice

It’s not going to be very easy to mindfully strive to write in a voice that’s authentic — it’s going to take a lot of experience to make it second nature. Your best shot is to revise for voice after you’ve finished the draft. That way, the need to sound authentic doesn’t stifle the flow of your ideas while you’re putting them down.

The easiest way to revise your writing for authenticity is to read it aloud. How does it sound when you do that? Do some sentences feel awkward? Do some ideas come across forced? Do you feel like certain sections are bragging more than presenting a proper argument? From here alone, you will likely identify a whole host of areas for improvement — ones that can really change the way your writing reads.

Another technique to get an authentic voice is to imagine a reader whenever you write. Don’t imagine a group of them or some random individual. Instead, construct an ideal reader based on your target audience. Take that person, visualize them in your head and write the piece to them the same way you would state things when you’re talking to that person verbally. This usually forces you to write more or less the same way you speak, since the intention is to communicate to one person, rather than commit 1,000 (or 500 or 5,000) words to a page.