Developing your Voice and Style as an academic author
Academic writing has its own style and conventions, and is often regarded as a dry retelling of the facts. This is somewhat true, seeing as the professional audience that it is intended for is mostly interested in those facts alone. This can render the act of going through your paper a completely utilitarian exercise for the reader. However, this does not mean that you can’t make it easier for audiences to engage with your writing. Here, we’ll discuss how developing a particular, personal voice or style can help improve your writing, and therefore, your audience’s engagement.
Voice and style in academic writing
What is meant by your ‘voice’ in this context is the way in which you use language to communicate with your audience. In some cases, an author can have such a strongly developed style that you could almost hear the words in the author’s (spoken) voice as you’re reading them. This is an example of a strong stylistic profile, which can help your reader feel like you are speaking directly to them through your writing, and help them to engage more intimately with your writing. (See an example toward the end of this article.)
Developing your academic voice/style
As with most tasks in life, the best way to truly get better at something is to:
Practise > Analyse your results > Practise again
To do this, seek out opportunities where you can write for varied audiences about a range of topics and try to get feedback from either the publisher/editors/platform or readers. This is a great way to start to understand how you tend to write.
Perhaps you have a certain tendency to use tools like metaphors or are very particular about how you use punctuation. Think about things like sentence structure, your use of vocabulary and the tone you most enjoy writing in. Things like this collectively come together to form your unique style, and building this out and combining it with feedback from editors and readers can help shape your unique voice.
Using and adapting your academic voice/style
Once you feel that you understand your unique voice, use it to its fullest extent.
- To begin, you could think about how your style could be adapted and used effectively for diverse kinds of writing and media platforms, making sure that you apply the right tone to whatever it is you are writing.
- Conversely, if you feel that you generally enjoy using more relaxed language (bordering on the colloquial and even hued with some humour), and therefore that the conventions of academic journals are too stifling for you, then perhaps you might like to consider writing for more informal platforms, such as blogs and websites.
Writing voice and style: Example
In this paper from Nature, the language used is very simple, especially for a scientific journal, where the only bit of jargon is ‘EV’, which is what the paper revolves around and is described earlier. The voice here is expressed in the use of sentence structure, which overall gives the article a very assertive, authoritative tone. This sort of voice is particularly common in high-impact journals.
Finding your voice and developing it is a practice that need not be confined just to works of fiction. You can develop their style into something that is enjoyable to read and unique to them, so much so that someone may, in future, read a paper you have authored and be able to immediately identify your unmistakable voice. Use your voice to help your readers engage with what you’re writing and your message will be conveyed much more clearly and effectively.
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