Kaite Rosa is Senior Director of Content Marketing at Payfactors. With more than a decade of professional writing experience, Kaite has held content-focused roles at Boston-area companies including Virgin Pulse, Lionbridge, and Brafton. She has also reported for Boston-based online publication VentureFizz, and New York City-based online publications Mobile Marketer and Luxury Daily. Follow her on Twitter @kaiterosa.
Voice. It’s one of those concepts that can be especially hard for some writers to establish -- particularly when the voice you’re trying to establish is your own.
If you ask me, voice is something that’s difficult to master because we spend years writing five paragraph essays and academic research reports. Those reports are then graded by teachers high on the power of their red pens: teachers who tear through our work, X-ing out any inkling of voice or creativity in the name of academia.
Unless you were blessed with a lucky teacher or two who helped cultivate your voice as a writer, you probably spent 12-plus years stripping any and all voice right out of your writing.
But here’s the thing: a strong voice is what sets great writers and great copy apart. Establish your own tone -- I mean really nail your personal writing style -- and you immediately separate your writing from 90 percent of the garbage out there.
Ok, so we can probably all agree that a solid personal voice is a must. But how do you actually figure yours out?
1. Throw conventions out the window.
All that five paragraph essay nonsense you learned in eighth grade? Forget it. (Well, most of it.)
Sure, there are rules in writing. And some you’ve absolutely got to follow. (Like citing your sources -- always do that. Because plagiarism? Not OK.)
But, at least in my book, most of the ones we learned in grade school are made to be broken. Your blog posts don’t need to include an intro, thesis, and conclusion that reframes the key points your content covers. Contractions are totally OK to use (encouraged, in fact). And while peppering in the kinds of vocab words you only encounter in scientific research publications might have earned you extra points in college, it’s not going to make your content any stronger today. In fact, it’ll do the opposite.
See, when you’re writing for a broad audience with a variety of personas (like the one you’re targeting with that lifestyle blog or the one your software startup is marketing to), it’s essential that you convey your message in the simplest way possible.
That doesn’t mean you need to dumb things down.
It just means you need to write like you’d speak. Be direct. Use active, engaging language. Make your point in as few words as possible. And avoid corporate jargon, which can not only feel stuffy, but can bog your content down and make it difficult for readers to follow.
Do all this and you’ll not only make your content stronger and easier to understand, but you’ll also let your voice shine through in the most authentic way possible.
2. Do some character work.
Early in my career, I worked at a marketing agency where I helped businesses develop and execute their content marketing strategies. My favorite part of that role was helping new clients identify their brand style and voice -- something that many of my customers hadn’t thought about before.
“If your brand was a person, who would it be?” I’d ask. “How would she describe herself? What qualities would he have? What would your brand read on the weekends?”
One of my favorite answers came from a company that was trying to reinvent itself to engage millennials. My client had clearly thought deeply about the question, because they said, “We’re savvy. We’re experts in our industry, probably the smartest guy in the room, and we’ll tell you everything we know in a way that makes you feel smart, too. But, while everyone else is wearing suits and ties, we’re in shorts and flip flops.”
That answer blew my hair back. I remember thinking, “YES!! These people get. it.”
Like it or not, you’re a brand. And you need to identify the qualities you want to convey. Start by thinking about some key attributes you want associated with your writing. Do you want to sound academic, or should reading your copy feel like we’re catching up over your kitchen table? Are you buttoned up, or is your style more laid-back?
Jot down how you want readers to perceive you, and then hold yourself and your writing to those qualities.
3. Find your fire.
In college, I wrote a weekly column for my student newspaper. When it was first assigned to me, I seriously struggled. I had this newfound freedom to write about whatever I wanted! In whatever style I wanted!
But I was totally lost on how to do it. I kept trying to apply an unbiased, journalistic voice to my writing (the same one I wrote my five paragraph essays in), mainly because I didn’t know any other way to write. And it just. didn’t. work.
Every week, I’d try to contain my real voice, keep it closeted away and out of my content. And the more I did, the more I hated that damn column. Until one week, when a topic had me really heated. I was so up in arms that I sat down at my laptop and spent a solid hour typing exactly what was in my head on that subject.
The closet door busted open and my voice – my raw, unfiltered, really real voice – came bounding out. That was the first week where my column actually resonated with people. I know because I had students coming up to me in the cafeteria and in between classes to talk about what I wrote.
Later on, my editor at that paper helped me identify what made the column work.
“It reads like how you sound,” she said. “It’s like we’re sitting across from each other having a cup of coffee. And that’s what people want! They want to connect with the real you.”
However you go about establishing your own voice and letting it shine in your writing, this is what it really boils down to: A strong voice isn’t boring. A strong voice has personality and reflects your passion. It exudes that “something different” that makes your reader feel things, makes them think, and – above all else – makes them want to keep reading.