How The Best Content Writers Use Voice To Their Advantage
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
How Voice Impacts The Work Of The Best Content Writers
One of the most important aspects of good content writing is one even the best content writers struggle with. It’s strange to think of it like that—you’d think that the primary focus would be on producing the best content possible, and who could ignore such an important factor?
But it’s true.
Perhaps part of the reason the importance of voice to good writing is seldom correctly understood is the fact that the concept itself is so ill-defined.
After all, what is voice, anyway? What’s the best way to describe it? Does it have to do with vocabulary suggestion, or grammatical preferences? Is it something less tangible than those? Does punctuation come into it? What about sentence lengths?
What Is Voice?
The truth is that while voice can be considered a combination of all of the aforementioned factors, it’s also none of them. We’ll do our best to get into an in-depth discussion of what exactly voice is below, as well as talking about why it’s something the best content writers should be focusing on when they’re drafting their blogs or articles. But first, it makes sense to understand why voice is so important to well-crafted, SEO-optimized content.
First of all, we need to understand how Google goes about determining the various SEO scores of the websites it indexes. There are hundreds and hundreds of different things the algorithm takes into consideration, and an exhaustive list of all of these is regrettably beyond the scope of this article.
Fortunately for us, however, we only need to think about one: time spent on page.
As the best content writers will already be well aware, time spent on page is one of the single best ways to ensure that the copy you’ve written converts traffic to sales, as well as helping to get your page to rank for the keywords you’ve hopefully researched and chosen specifically to fit your niche.
The longer any given reader spends on your page, the better the chances that they’ll eventually be coerced into making a purchase. Similarly, Google recognizes time spent on page to be a strong indication of how good the content is on the whole, which it then factors into its algorithm accordingly.
How To Increase Time Spent On Page
So how does one go about ensuring visitors stay on the page?
By writing in a way that encourages them to keep reading, of course, as any one of the best content writers will be able to tell you.
That’s all well and good, of course. But the question of how to find this fabled Grail is altogether more complicated, and involves voice to a massively important degree.
Put simply, the voice a piece of writing is written in is how you might imagine somebody reading it to you.
Contrary to popular belief, the words shape the voice, and not the other way around.
While there are undoubtedly many different ways to read the same sentence—as an example, take the famous story about Billie Holiday going around to listeners at a bar one by one, and singing the same song in a different way for each one of them—when it comes to non-musical reading, there are in fact only a few that remain true to the intention of the author.
Maybe a concrete example of what we’re talking about might be helpful at this juncture. Take the following two sentences, and compare how the best content writers might have altered each one in order to inspire a different reading, or a different voice, in the mind of the reader.
A Panda Example
‘The panda eats shoots and leaves.’
‘The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.’
This is a well known sentence, most typically employed by the best content writers to highlight the importance of paying attention to punctuation. And the point is made obvious to us as soon as we try to read it.
The first sentence describes, in general, what makes up the staple diet of a given panda bear.
The second, on the other hand, describes a particular scene in which the same panda bear plays a part.
In the latter scenario, a panda eats something, shoots something, and then leaves wherever he was eating and shooting to go somewhere else, presumably to do some more eating and shooting (the good life, huh?).
The Story So Far
So far so good, right? This is all common knowledge, and you don’t need to be one of the best content writers around in order to appreciate the point. However, what we’re going to try and dissect doesn’t have to do with the grammar, and is instead focused on the concept of voice.
The voice involved in the first sentence, no matter how artistically the reader attempts to interpret it, is going to—by definition—be brisk, authoritative (the tone will drop towards the end, as opposed to how the tone behaves with an interrogative statement, which is by increasing as the sentence draws closer to the question mark), and somewhat dull.
This isn’t because the reader wants to communicate these things; it’s because the voice in which the sentence was written was designed by the author to be read in such a way.
The grammar plays a part in the voice, not the other way around—this is the most important concept to understand when it comes to grasping the overall significance of voice when it comes to good content writing, and the best content writers make a habit of employing exactly this strategy in what they produce.
The voice in which the first sentence was written could be described as dry, impersonal, and not particularly erudite. Keep these factors in mind, because we’ll be comparing them to the second sentence in a moment.
In the second sentence, the use of the grammars requires a good deal of stopping throughout the reading of the sentence.
Sure, the reader doesn’t have to pause after each comma, but if he doesn’t then he is essentially ignoring the comma altogether, which consequently might as well not be there.
The best content writers know that grammar is prescriptive, not descriptive—it dictates how the sentence should be read, rather than reflecting the intent of the sentence itself.
The voice which reads out the second sentence, in contrast to the first, is going to feel a lot more human, simply by virtue of the fact that when we, as humans, speak to each other, we tend to pause a lot in order for our minds and tongues to synchronize. See what we did there with the commas?
It’s much more likely for us to pause at some point throughout a sentence of approximately the same length as the two examples above; so if the writer manages to write a sentence that more or less corresponds to how a real person would speak, he is already achieving a degree of naturalness in the voice that the reader’s ear will find subconsciously pleasant not amiable to listen to.
The best writing reads like your best friend is sitting in the room beside you, telling you something.
It doesn’t much matter whether it’s David Foster Wallace’s tortured, recursive prose, or whether it’s Faulkner’s famous punchy, to-the-point style.
The best content writers know that good writing is good writing; there are a few acceptable (if difficult to pin down) standards by which we can all agree that something is either well written or poorly written, and it’s in comparison to these metrics that we judge what’s great and what’s not so great.
The Benefits Of A Human Voice
Now we know that some sentences come with a more human voice by virtue of the way in which they’re written, and we know that a more human voice is going to keep the reader interested, without their knowing it.
We also know—just like the best content writers know—that the longer a reader is interested, the longer they stay on the page, and the better that page performs in Google’s algorithm.
The next question is the simplest to answer, and the most difficult to master.
How exactly do you write in a more human voice?
This is a colossal topic which we’ll hopefully be expanding more on in future pieces (stay tuned!), but for the moment we’ll stick to outlining a few rough rules of thumb that can be a good way to gauge how human the voice in which you’re writing really is.
First of all, skip the thesaurus stuff, please, for all of our sakes. Nobody wants to spend two out of every five minutes perusing a dictionary to understand what on earth you were on about; that’s neither warm, nor friendly.
George Orwell said that he never used a complicated word where a simple one would do.
This is a good habit to keep in mind, especially if you use it in concert with Stephen King’s warning that ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’ Instead of writing ‘He moved slowly,’ you could say ‘He walked.’ Instead of ‘He said loudly,’ you could say ‘He shouted.’ The idea is that instead of adverbs, you could just use a more powerful verb.
First-Person Vs. Second-Person
This is often debated: which of these is more friendly? While the typical advice is to write in the first person as a means of involving the reader in what you’re doing, here at Triple Vowel, our best content writers tend to recommend the opposite.
Rather than present what you’re doing by the use of the ‘I,’ form, why not skip the middleman and jump right to what they’re doing with the ‘You,’ form? Not only is it informal, it’s a direct way to communicate with the reader.
After all, reading and writing are two sides of the same telephone wire: it’s a two-way process, even though the writer usually isn’t present while the reader’s doing his or her reading.
Vary Sentence Lengths
Lastly, make sure that you’re mixing up the length of the sentences you’re writing. The best content writers will do this automatically, but for the rest of us mortals it’s good to keep it firmly in mind while we’re trying to craft something readable and enjoyable.
Mix up short, punchy sentences (good for communicating data and technical information), with more flowery expositions that are suited to expounding on the emotional side of things. As humans, both of these styles appeal to us, so you should be including both in your writing in generally equal portions.
Another cool thing you can accomplish by varying the lengths of your sentences is you can effectively speed up or slow down the reader. So, if you’ve got a paragraph that you don’t think is very important, but it’s leading up to an important one, use short sentences in the first paragraph and longer (albeit correctly punctuated) ones in the second.
This way the reader will skim through the unimportant stuff but he’ll have to pause for the more important information, which gives it a better chance of sticking somewhere in his head.
We hope you enjoyed this brief discussion of the importance of voice in content writing, and that if you’re already one of the best content writers around, you didn’t find it too dull.
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