Thursday, January 5, 2012

Watch Your Tone of Voice

When it comes to writing, any type of writing, an author's "voice" is a big deal. It tells readers not only about who's speaking, but also how the author views them. Does the writer know his or her audience? Or is it someone speaking into a headwind, writing to read his or her own words?

As an editor, I've read stories by thousands of authors on all kinds of subjects. As a PR and marcom writer I've written thousands of pieces for companies in most every industry imaginable. Nearly every successful story and brilliant piece of communications copy I come across will have a strong and developed sense of voice with which I'll identify and listen to attentively.

If some company is pitching a product to skateboard rats it can look and sound pretty awkward if they don't know what they're doing. Likewise, if I read a political thriller by someone whose voice tells me is a PBR-drinking hipster who probably can't name the current VP or Secretary of State, then the words won't resonate. I need to know that the author knows his subject and readership. I've written for semiconductor firms to sports leagues, have authored copy for music industry insiders to hotel and hospitality financiers. I even once wrote a whitepaper on halitosis (bad breath). Each time, like an actor, I assumed a different role and played to a new audience.

It's the same in all writing. Some of my personal favorite pieces of fiction I've written began simply with a voice and not a word of story to be told. The right voice can carry a story all the way to the end, turning the otherwise mundane into something rather appealing, after all. For business reasons this is especially true, particularly in advertising. Write with a credible, trusting voice that engages the reader, speaks to them, and gets them to buy into your message. This is one area of PR writing I pay special attention to. More so than ever now with the increasing prevalence of social media in coverage opportunities.

Always remember, you're writing not for yourself but for your readers.

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