In the same way that everyone speaks in their own unique way, each person also writes in a voice and style that is unique to them. In this section, we will cover some of the many aspects that go into crafting your own voice and style.
Using Strong Verbs
Strong verbs are verbs that show action in the subject. Weak verbs do not take any action such as “to be” or “to have.” While both types of verbs are important, using too many weak verbs makes it harder for your reader to determine your meaning and to follow your argument’s logic. Strong verbs present a clearly stated meaning that moves your paper forward with purpose.
A paper that uses strong verbs will come across as having a strong point of view and a stronger argument. Using strong verbs also forces you to focus on the verbs and nouns of your sentences instead of adjectives and adverbs. Even the strongest adverb cannot turn a weak verb into a strong one. This will also help you accumulate a diverse vocabulary for expressing your position.
In short, use strong verbs. Readers like them and they make you a stronger writer.
Active vs. Passive Voice
Active and passive verbs can be broken along the same lines as strong and weak verbs. Active verbs show the subject of the verb doing an action. Passive verbs show that the subject is being acted upon by an object. Passive sentences use “to be” to create the past tense.
For example, “Bigfoot was seen by a hiker.” Using the passive voice in this sentence makes the action static and less interesting. We can easily make this sentence active by flipping it around – “The hiker spotted Bigfoot.” Even this small change makes the sentence more lively and forceful.
Just like strong verbs, using the active voice in your writing will make your argument more convincing and more enjoyable to read. Some instructors even require that academic papers only use the active voice. However, even if your professor doesn’t list it as a requirement, using the active voice whenever possible will improve your writing and style.
Writing in Your Own Voice
As mentioned earlier, each person has their own writing voice that is unique to them. Finding your own voice is just as important in writing as it is in speaking. Voice is the characteristic of your writing that sounds like you to your reader. Ironically, if your writing voice sounds like you, then your reader will probably not even notice it. However, if your writing voice is drastically different from the way that you normally put words together or express ideas, your professor will probably pick up on it right away. It’s one of the easiest ways for an instructor to know if a student is cheating; the student’s voice won’t sound like their own.
Although many authors will spend large amounts of time refining their own voice, writing for class won’t take nearly as much effort. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to know to do or avoid to help write in your own voice.
Write better than you speak.
This can be a tricky one because it seems like writing the way you speak would be an easy way to present your own voice in your writing. However, most people speak much more informally than they would hope to write. Just think of the difference between written dialogue and other text in a book. When speaking, it isn’t always important to use whole sentences or even complete ideas. In writing, those verbal shortcuts would kill anyone’s grade. Think of your writing as a better, more refined version of your normal speech.
Use language you know.
Writers who are self-conscious about their vocabulary or who want to seem impressive will often use words and sentence patterns that they are unfamiliar with because they think it makes them sound smarter. In all honesty, it often has the exact opposite effect. Thesauruses can be a great resource for any writer, but if you haven’t used a word in in your speech (recently or ever), then you shouldn’t use it in your writing. There are lots of great ways to boost your vocabulary. Writing a research paper isn’t one of them.
Don’t get complicated.
Some writers will also try to make their sentences more complex to sound smarter. While it is important to use a variety of sentence structures, using sentence structures that are unfamiliar or foreign to your normal speech will often result in more trouble than good. A good sentence isn’t a complicated one. A good sentence is one that makes sense to you and your reader.
Writing for Your Audience
Who is going to be reading your paper? This is an important question to ask, but many students overlook it when writing papers. “My professor” is the obvious answer, but even taking the time to state this obvious answer can help you craft an appropriate voice and style for your essay.
Writing for your professor is different than writing for a general audience or even your classmates. While you would need to introduce topics and ideas in simple ways for a reader who is unfamiliar with your topic, you can dive into the complexities and nuances of an idea rapidly with a knowledgeable reader (like your professor). Recognizing this distinction will help you to edit and refine your paper so that it doesn’t waste your reader’s time in either mundane facts or complex exploration. Being able to identify who you are writing for means that you can tailor your voice and style so as to best communicate with them.