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Crafting an authentic voice

19 April 2009

I want the writing of my students to be direct, accessible, and clear, capable of connecting emotionally and intellectually with readers.

Tom Romano 2004, Crafting authentic voice, Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

sacred heart

An authentic voice? It’s a term that has troubled me since the start of this course, because I know in my head that sounding real is the result of making a set of linguistic choices – and how real can it be, if sounding real is your aim?


Uploaded under Creative Commons by Tobal

Blogs must be authentic, or they just aren’t blogs: , back in 2003, a blog was defined by its must-haves:

  • Authentic Voice of a Person.
  • Reverse Chronological Order.
  • On the web.

In another format, we would call the conventions of genre, mode and interpersonal stance of a text its ‘style’ – but this term is not used of blog writing. Why not? – I think it must have something to do with the intimacy of screen writing, with the silent bargain struck between the blog writer and their reader:

Blog writer: Let me burble on, let me examine the things that are special to me, that are private. I undertake to write as if I am writing a personal story, purely for my own amusement, or perhaps the pleasure of a few close friends [very much the way that the Renaissance poets circulated their manuscripts?]

Blog reader: Don’t mind me, just let me read over your shoulder – and let me add some supportive feedback, so we can get to know each other better.

Can the authentic voice be faked? It’s a problem that comes up in organisations where the corporate communication tries to assume a human face – ‘Message from the CEO’. How bad is it, when the CEO actually doesn’t write a word of it? And how do the readers know it isn’t from her/him? Here’s what the suspicious internal readers don’t see (from another blog on ‘Building an authentic voice‘), and the messages these textual choices suggest:

  1. first person narrative – ‘I’m taking the time to talk to you’
  2. expressing the CEO’s own opinion on the issue – ‘I respect you enough to share my judgements’
  3. simple, non-jargon terms – ‘We are equals’
  4. a portion of the topic, not the ultimate coverage – ‘There is room for you to contribute, too’
  5. passion – ‘I care, and you might too’
  6. a unique perspective – ‘I can tell you stuff that other people can’t’
  7. human details – ‘I am communicating myself, not just my message’
  8. self-deprecating tone – ‘I acknowledge I have faults, forgive me’.

Above all, the voice must be generous, free, and non-commercial: perhaps more, it must be something radical.

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