The Writing That Gives You A Voice
What exactly is it in the words we write that gives our blogs a voice - compared to the lack of a human voice in the business communication we're used to? I have a suggestion. I think it's about
- I, me, my, mine
I would appreciate more suggestions. Just don't say that it is impossible to define the ingredients of a voice... One of the best writers I have worked with once told me (and now I tell everyone on my writing courses): "There's nothing between the lines. Check for yourself, do you see anything between the lines? Everything you feel, everything you understand, everything this text does to you is a result of the words that are there and the words that aren't." That's what I'm trying to figure out when it comes to the voice of blogs.
I also recognize that actual content - what we choose to write about - is an equally important part of forming a voice. But it's not the part I'm talking about here.
I, me, my, mine
These are the forbidden words of business communication (and journalism, by the way). You just don't write them in a news release or in the company presentation. If you try, young and eager, you will probably be corrected with explanations like "remember, you are representing the entire organization" or "our audience is interested in our services, not in you". An anonymous and undefined "we" might pass if we use first person pronouns at all.
I, me, my, mine are on the other hand the perhaps most visible signs of an author, and therefore necessary conditions for an author's voice. These words constitute a major difference between blog writing and traditional business writing. You definitely don't have to use them in every post, but if you never you use them my guess is your blog is viewed as distant.
Human beings are rarely sure of anything. If we are sure of everything we are either mental patients or president wannabes. In business writing, though, we never let that uncertainty shine through. The words we use are "conclude", "to state" or "announce".
A good blog uses those words too sometimes, but we also write "believe", "guess", "wonder" or "I have no idea". That kind of searching or openness for other views is human, and an important part of a credible voice.
If you think that uncertainty is a too limiting word, try conversational to describe what I'm aiming at.
This is perhaps the part where blog and business writing differ the least. At least on the positive side. Even if we can discuss the credibility of those positive emotions formulated in corporate communications, they are there. The CEO is happy about the new deal or excited about the new project.
But you never see any difficult or negative emotions.
I have been a writer in organizational settings for years and almost never used words like "irritating" or "angry". Or "idiot", for that matter.
Humans are complex. Our writing must be that too, if we want a voice.
...or maybe rather irony. This is not general, and we find blogs that are written with a lot of humor or irony and we find blogs without any of it. Still, I think we can say without doubt that it is more usual in blogs than in other business communication. Especially if we count those frequent finishing remarks where the blogger preserves the right to have the last say. It's not possible to point to any special signs of irony in a text, besides shallow things like smileys or "...".
Now we're on the fine line between blog specific writing and good writing in general. Nevertheless, a good blog use a simple and direct language - which, again, translates into a human voice.
Grammatically speaking, where traditional business writing still often use the passive voice, a blog uses the active voice. A blog uses the words we say when we talk to each other in person, business writing tends to lean towards a more formal vocabulary. Blogs are written with shorter sentences and fewer subordinate clauses than business writing. And so on. Altogether, this means that in a blog we hear the kind of voice we hear when we talk to real people.