Take time to identify your audience, motives, and goals for writing in order to achieve your most authentic writing voice.
1. Be Authentic
Good writing is honest writing. If you want to find an engaging writing voice that will resonate with others, you have to be yourself. Not a funny guy? Then don’t force jokes. Don’t use jargon in writing you don’t normally use when speaking (especially if you don’t even know what it means). Trust me – saying what you mean in the clearest, simplest terms is the best way to be understood by your reader. And when people understand your first few sentences, they are more inclined to read on.
Honest writing also means being authentic about your personal experiences, when and if appropriate. For example, on my college and graduate school consulting blog, I share stories about how I overcame a debilitating fear of public speaking in college or mistakes I made in the classroom that I needed to correct to earn a professor’s respect. My student readers tend to respond favorably to these stories; they demonstrate that I dealt with and overcame problems similar to what they might be struggling with right now.
However, you want to be honest without being overly confessional. Meaning, I never wrote about my pregnancy or the birth of my first child on my professional blog, or my feelings about the intersection between new motherhood, maintaining my professional identity, and how the two converged to impact my sense of self-worth. Those reflections went on my personal writing website, which I do not cross-promote on my business blog.
2. Know Your Audience
You can’t find your authentic voice without knowing who you are writing for. Who is your targeted audience? There are two ways to determine who comprises your readership. You can pick a discrete swath of the population and tailor your topics, tone, and style to your readers’ interests.
For example, someone who is trying to establish herself as a cooking expert might launch a blog with recipes, tips, and stories about what memories certain dishes evoke for her. Meanwhile, a copywriter who is attempting to win more clients might post book reviews, writing prompts, or advice for improving your written communication skills. In this case, the experience is established by giving away some information, while simultaneously demonstrating his potential value to readers who need a copywriter’s assistance.
However, you can also let the readers come to you if you write what you want to write about – whether that is how to finish a book, restoring old furniture, your experiences as a stay-at-home parent, or DIY home improvement projects. The right readers will organically find you.
Whether you are intentionally pursuing a certain audience, decide who you are addressing with your writing.
3. What’s Your Motive?
Figuring out your audience goes hand-in-hand with understanding your motive for writing.
- Are you writing for fun, to make a small amount of money, or to earn a full income?
- Are you working for yourself or for someone else?
- Do you enjoy what you’re writing?
If you are writing for yourself, you need to be motivated to blog regularly, finish a novel, or contribute to a scholarly journal. Pick a topic that engages you, and readers will follow.
Often a writer’s motive is earning a paycheck (and nothing wrong with that!).
However, if you aren’t particularly interested in the assigned topic, your apathy will likely come through in your content. Find a way to make the assignment more interesting for you (approach the topic from a unique or unexpected angle, interview people in the field, or do some research on the history of your subject). Both the person paying you and his readers will thank you.
4. How Does It Serve Your Overall Goal?
This point asks you to get even more specific about your motive. What kind of writer are you? How are you using your writing to further your professional agenda or personal mission? Are you trying to “brand” yourself through your writing?
These days, first impressions are often through the written word, rather than face-to-face meetings or even by phone. How do you want to represent yourself?
On my education consulting website, I stick to formal language, with website copy and blog posts following a straightforward formula of describing a problem experienced by many college and graduate students and then offering concrete steps to resolving it. Readers need to know that if they pay me for my services, I can help them identify the obstacle(s), assist them in defining their goals, and provide a detailed roadmap to achieving their objective.
However, on my personal writing website, I allow myself to write about whatever I want. There is always a point, but they are reflections on what’s going on in my life. I do not follow any specific formula, use a much more informal voice, include pictures of my family, and post only when I want. In this case, my agenda is to simply present myself as a writer and feature examples of my work.