Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing

Choosing words to connect with your audience.

Julie Wildhaber, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #229

Finding Your Voice

So how do you discover and develop your voice? Start by thinking about these three things:

  1. What you want to communicate about yourself or, if you're writing for a business, about the company's brand. If you asked your readers to describe your copy with a few adjectives, which words would you want them to choose?

  2. The purpose of what you're writing. Should your voice be different for an obituary than for a movie review? Do you want to inform, entertain, or motivate readers to take action?

  3. Your target audience. Are you writing for kids, professional investors, soccer fans from around the world?

As you think about each of those factors, scribble down adjectives that might apply to your voice. If you get stuck, consider some qualities that you don't want to convey, like "long-winded" or "snooze worthy" or "arrogant." Consider your peers and competitors, too: How will your voice be distinct from theirs?

When you have a substantial list, start to prune. Delete any descriptors that seem secondary in importance, and see if you can make any words more specific. Many writers might describe their voices as conversational, for example, but there's a big difference between conversational on a celebrity gossip site and conversational on a bank site. Boil your list down to four or five essential descriptors.