What is Voice?
Voice is the sound created by the writer and the perspective from which the piece is written; voice is created primarily through tone and point of view.
Tone is the way the writing sounds to the reader. Is it serious, flippant, sarcastic, reasoned, witty, humorous, casual, or some mixture of these elements? Academic writing, such as research papers or case studies, often calls for a reasoned or serious tone. Some refer to this as a formal voice. Tone is created, in part, through word choice, or diction.
Diction, or word choice, supports the tone that a writer hopes to convey. Thus, for a formal style, use “made a mistake” rather than “screwed up.” Words marked in the dictionary as “slang” or “informal” would not be good candidates to include in a formal paper. However, if you were writing a narrative, then such vocabulary might be appropriate.
Point of view: This is the position from which the writer is writing: first person, second person, or third person. Academic writing generally will be in third person rather than in first or second person. Other assignments that you may be asked to write, for example, personal reflections, may employ first person.
First person statement: I think that the research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.
Second person statement: You will see that the research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.
Third person statement: The research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.
What is Purpose?
Purpose is your reason for writing. Are you writing to persuade, to explain, or to issue a call to action? Perhaps you have more than one purpose. Understanding your reason for writing will help you to choose an appropriate voice.
What is Audience?
Audience is another way to refer to your readers. Depending upon your audience, you may choose to adopt a formal voice, a mixed style voice, or even a casual voice. In addition, knowing who your audience is will help you to determine the level of detail that you should provide and the word choices you may make. For example, if your audience for a specific paper is determined to be “insiders” with an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, then you might choose to omit some background information. If you are uncertain of the level of the reader’s familiarity with your topic, however, you should write the paper so that any reader can read and understand it.
If you are unsure about the intended audience for your paper, ask your professor!
By Teresa Sweeney, Writing Specialist, 2008