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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Writing in Voices: True, I Have Many and I Best Speak With Care
Context shapes and informs an authentic voice

 2:20 pm on May 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

  • Business - "I'm / This is ALL (about) business
  • Promoting - A product, one's services
  • Inform - THIS is information, ungilded, untarnished, "Just the facts m'am"
  • Educate - I WISH I could define it but it's more a matter of "I know it when I encounter it". Inform, verifiable authority resource material, Q&A
  • Punditry - Information with a spin, bias
  • Aid - This information and website is meant / intended / contextualized with "help you" at its center
  • There are many more contexts


  • Expert - I REALLY KNOW this stuff
  • Knowledgable - I'm pretty deep into this but I know my limits
  • (Re)Searcher - I'm looking for answers just like you. Here's what I've found so far
  • (Amateur)Enthusiast - I may not be an expert but I sure wish I was because I LIKE this . .
  • Pundit - See above
  • Authority - Not only am I an expert but I'm a RECOGNIZED expert
  • There are many more voices

I can speak in many voices. I can speak (write) with expertise in relation to some subjects. I can speak with authority on others. I can speak as a reporter of my research or investigative efforts. I can speak as a curious noob. I can speak as someone of some degree of intelligence that is writing simply to help others who may have difficulty grasping something. I can speak as someone who knows one aspect of a topic with some depth but quickly find myself in over my head - losing authenticity - when I attempt to extend that claim of 'domain' expertise. No one is more closely attuned to the moment when I lapse into speaking with/in/from a voice that is inauthentic "to the speaking". (This is not the same as saying "lying" but it might be said to share in some of the same qualities of a lie.)

The interesting thing about writing voice, context and content is that IF I draw back I can see how the three - context, voice and content - align with the idea of "mission" or "mission statement". An authentic website might be said to be one where the website's mission statement aligns with its content and the content is an expression of that mission.

A classic example of a misalignment of voice+context/mission+content might be a website that claims an educational mission - such as foreign currency trading - where 40% of the average page is dedicated to ads and affiliate marketing. How quicly does the inauthentic warning alarm go off when you come across such websites? It's only a matter of a few seconds on a slow day, right, and then you flee? The messsage of the mission, as reflected on page, is "make money" - no matter what the ever present mission statement says. The writing voice tends to be shallow and reedy, the tone of a pretender to expertise.

How much better the same website might be - and more likely to find an audience - if the website was voiced as the voice of someone who is a newcomer to the topic, who is engaging the website's target subject matter as a beginner, someone who is reporting on their early insights and experience, accompanied by a miniumum of ads that are justifiably there to help pay the bills. Such a minimal-expertise voiced website might be saved from it's lack of "claimed expertise" by its palpable authenticity. Though thin on expertise it might be studied for its (personal) insights. It might be easier to digest, too, since its voice speaks to you as its words sound a lot like the words that form your consciousness and encounter with the very same issue - as you, too, are a newcomer.

Authenticity: The marriage of voice, context and content.

So, how am I applying any of this?

As I'm moving apace on the development of several projects it has become clear that I needed to confront the following issues and questions:

  1. What's the mission - the context - of this project? Is it to educate? To inform? To lead? To promote? To share? To sell? To pontificate? I better know. I better be self-aware of what is driving my action. Know thyself. Know thy context. Do not pass go without measured clarity or inauthenticity and descent into a morass is likely to soon follow.
  2. What voice is authentic to the context and content? A website ought to know and respect its voice before the first line of content is published.
  3. Can I adopt the voice of "expert" in relation to a subject that is new to me? I just might, so long as the voice is that of an "expert newcomer".
  4. What exactly is that voice? Start by being honest and not a pretender to knowledge. Your visitor may move on, in search of higher or greater authority, but if you speak authentically that visitor might just refer others to your "good guide/source for a beginner" website. And, in time, you might also advance in your expertize to "intermediate". ;)
  5. Is it possible to lose one's authenticity - and one's audience - by getting ahead of yourself or losing sight of one's mission. I've see a growing swath of this behavior in the blogosphere . . and I've seen some folks pulling back.
  6. Celebrity? Unless it is your mission it becomes a distraction and soon imposes a cost upon creativity and originality.
  7. If I am to respect what I've stated about voice, context and content then I better be prepared to live with writing a few authentic words. Better that I should leave as my footprint a few words of value than to join the evergrowing mass of "content producers".

I tend to linger in places where the air is one of authenticity.

How rare that air is.

[edited by: Webwork at 2:58 pm (utc) on May 10, 2007]



 1:25 pm on May 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

One of the most informative and high-quality posts on writing in voices I've recently read. What is more - it has a great clear-cut structure that makes it a pleasure to read.

Thank you, Webwork.


 2:20 pm on May 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thanks J_B. It's lonely out here in space but, as far as I can tell, space is where a lot of what happens on the ground gets worked out. One needs to get firmly grounded in (creative writing) space if one is going to get a (writing) game on that works. No other effort has quite so well greased the creative gears for me as gaining some grounding - some insight and creative "mental purchase" - on the subject of writing voice, writing context, and authenticity of presentation. There are so many pretenders to information or knowledge - me, too, sometimes - and it's only going to get worse, leaving many content creators or publishers to wonder why they don't have an audience or their audience sucks.

Put in its simplest terms, if the voice I write in is indicative of inauthenticity - i.e., I'm not a drinker of the Kool-Aid I'm selling (and various other take-aways from my initial post) - my writing - or in the parlance of the day "my content creation" - quickly takes on the air of fluff.

There's a bit more to be said in summation but I've already labored to say that in my initial post.

Back to creative space. It's amazing how a bit of clarity frees up the flow of the creative juices. All it took was a bit of clarity about "Who am I now in relation to this and, given that true self-assessment, what is my authentic writing voice and an authentic context for what I'm about to say?".

Who woulda thunk, ya know?

Now, if only all those who keep asking "Where do I get content" would only take a second or deeper look at what I've attempted to communicate we might actually have a far more interesting content-based Web. The short version of the answer to the perennial question "Where to I get interesting content?" is "In you! Just deliver it authentically, in an appropriate context and voice."

"The problem" of content creation starts to get solved, I'll say, by first fixing one's self (and that's not to say one is broken). It may be better said as "fixing one's mind and one's focus and one's voice".

[edited by: Webwork at 2:26 pm (utc) on May 17, 2007]


 9:24 pm on May 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

It's lonely out here in space

Webwork's thought-out, compact, abstract articles aren't easy to follow and to consume, hehe.

wonder why ... [he doesn't] ... have an audience

(No offence meant, essentially, a mere bumping to keep this one alive :)


 9:30 pm on May 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

There are many more voices

Whenever I tell that to the men in the white coats, they put me in a nice padded room.

[edited by: LifeinAsia at 9:31 pm (utc) on May 17, 2007]


 11:04 am on May 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

Whenever I tell that to the men in the white coats, they put me in a nice padded room.

I guess the phrase "I have many voices" will attract the men in the white coats' attention much better.
Anyway, copywriters are weird people, having weird thoughts and many voices. A part of their occupation, I guess.
But your post made me laugh, really. *No, I'm not sarcastic, that was just fun to read*



 11:23 am on May 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

My vision is that your post, Webwork, might serve great as a tutorial to some beginners in the web writing field. Excellent job, though the headline really sounds strange at first read.


 11:12 pm on Jun 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

The most read sources are often the most authoritative. Scientific American gets more readers than a plethora of unqualified enthusiasts. The top political bloggers who know their stuff get bandwidth that an army of wannabes can only dream of.

We read the authorities, and this the voice we are used to hearing. So when we begin to write our own material, it is often the voice we want to emulate. This natural, and in many ways, a positive: after all, there's nothing wrong with emulating the best.

However, sometimes we simply aren't an authority.
The best antidote is research.
This can be a humbling experience.
However it is better to learn your ignorance before, rather than after, you're written your article. Nothing will leave a bad taste more than discovering that an article you wrote last month is just so much nonsense.

The internet is being buried by lame articles of little or no value. This is especially true in topics that everyone feels they are an expert in (or at least, large swathes of the population). These include: psychology, relationships, politics, sex, goal-setting, motivation, film and television, photography, workplaces, dealing with stress, and others.

One way to become an authority is simply to start writing about the topic of your interest. As you write more, and research what you write, and find the gaps in your knowledge, you can over time, become an expert.


 3:13 am on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thank-you for the post Webwork.


 4:03 am on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

On seeing title of this thread, I thought may be advice for folk who post to forums (maybe even to their own forums!) with variety of monikers!

Tho not the aim, it would seem to hold good advice for such folk.


 4:29 am on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Being an "authority", of course, can mean doing better job of writing about a topic than (most) others have done.
- realising this can help get me started; by contrast, I can just freeze if think I must produce nigh-on flawless articles.


 4:47 am on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thank you for the kind words.

If you spend some time digesting the abstractions I've been attempting to communicate, such as "the context" for your website project and "authentic voice", you may realize that contextualizing the project from the outset can act as a catalyst for natural (to you) keyword selection, category selection, initial website taxonomy creation, navigation, article topics and titles, etc.

Which may also make the entire website creation process move along a little easier.

[edited by: Webwork at 4:48 am (utc) on June 3, 2007]


 7:36 am on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

You got me to reading some of my articles to get a feel for my voice. I think it's closest to

>>Knowledgeable - I'm pretty deep into this but I know my limits.<<

But I add a bit of a personal touch, like I am sitting and telling the person about something I am both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about. But there are references at the end of the page which makes it seem more formal.

My question is this. Should the writer's "voice" be consistent throughout a site? For example should there be a chatty blog style section or should that be on a separate domain?


 3:22 pm on Jun 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Should the writer's "voice" be consistent throughout a site?

Anne, does WebmasterWorld have a section entitled "Foo"?

Does the Foo fit? ;0)

Authenticity of voice is not a "foolish consistency." :)


 1:30 pm on Jun 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

My question is this. Should the writer's "voice" be consistent throughout a site? For example should there be a chatty blog style section or should that be on a separate domain?

In my view, the writer's voice should be consistent throughout a site. The perceptions of the reader would better not mix but work in one direction and build a clear idea what the overall blog style is.


 12:54 am on Jun 5, 2007 (gmt 0)


Can I adopt the voice of "expert" in relation to a subject that is new to me?

I do this in part by referring visitors to related sites that are great and on-topic. I think natural linking builds goodwill because its helpful, and cred, because it stands out as a high form of honesty and integrity. It's also rewarded in modern serps in various ways.


 6:28 pm on Jun 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Callivert, on becoming an expert through research:

You're right. It's do-able. Journalists do it all the time. Where others may need to have degrees or spend lifetimes in a field before they're accepted as experts, jouralists and reporters do stories on a subject and can be instant experts.


 10:24 pm on Jun 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

My question is this. Should the writer's "voice" be consistent throughout a site? For example should there be a chatty blog style section or should that be on a separate domain?

I started my first (and still my primary) website before the days of blogs, and as long as something is within the topic area I keep it on the same domain.

I do use what you could call different "voices" in different sections of the site, but they're all recognizable as "me". Maybe different "tones" is a better description, because all the tones fit into "Knowledgable - I'm pretty deep into this but I know my limits." That's me when it comes to the site topic - with an occasional foray into "Expert - I REALLY KNOW this stuff" in certain sub-topics. But you have to be as knowledgeable about something to write a parody of it as you do to write a serious essay on it, and I do both. I tend to use humor even when writing about serious ideas, but if something crosses the line into existing for the sake of the humor, it goes into a different section of the site.

ETA: My site has always been aimed at people who are also "pretty deep into this". When I started it, newbie sites were all over the place, and it was harder for people to find somewhere they could get deeper into the topic. Now a lot (I'd say the majority) of the newbie sites are withering on the vine. I see this as an opportunity and a challenge. I'd love to have mine become a real "destination site" for the niche, but to do that I'd have to add all the really basic information that people new to the topic would need. I'm not sure how to do this without either talking over their heads or talking down to them. I think the "Knowledgable" voice would still be the correct one, but I haven't figured out how to make the tone anything but dry. In order to write authentically enthusiastic content I think I somehow have to recapture the excitement of that initial discovery, instead of coming across as a teacher handing out rote information so we can move on to the "good stuff".

[edited by: Beagle at 10:44 pm (utc) on June 5, 2007]


 10:54 pm on Jun 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Promoting - A product, one's services

Particularly with products, the "voice" should be such that it's sensitive to and appopriate for the particular target audience, if there is one.

Plus, information and selling aren't necessarily the same thing; neither are content and copy necessarily the same thing.

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