No one picks up a Dr. Seuss book expecting to read words like “my blood ran cold” – but that’s exactly what they’re looking for in a Stephen King novel.
Instead of writing with one distinctive and consistent voice, content writers assume the voice of several clients, appealing at one moment to parents of little Dr. Seuss fans and at another writing to an audience of mystery novel connoisseurs.
How do they manage to pivot between subjects, styles, tones and audiences so seamlessly? Read on for our two cents on how it works.
One writer, multiple voices
Think about the way you converse with your boss. Now consider how you talk to your friends. Just like you effortlessly switch between conversational styles, writers translate messages into the voices that sound most appropriate to the desired audiences.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a set formula for how writers are able to switch between styles, tones and audiences with such finesse. Writing is inherently creative, which means that even when you’re a professional writer, it’s still a personal endeavor. It’s three parts writing skills, two parts experience and a few dashes of intuition.
Don’t worry – we won’t leave you with the very unsatisfying answer of “Well, they just do it.”
We can certainly share a few of the tried-and true tactics that help writers switch between voices, with some examples to drive home the point:
Know thy audience
Writing without an audience or targeted persona in mind is like speaking into a dark abyss. In order to write with an effective tone and style, writers think about the people who will be reading their words. They have the audience in mind as they plan, write and review the content.
Questions rolling around their brains during this process include:
- Is this topic relevant to the audience?
- What makes them laugh?
- Will this reference resonate with readers?
- Do I need to define this term or do these people use it in everyday language?
Sometimes it helps to go even deeper, creating a persona for a specific reader that’s likely to engage with the content. Those more detailed questions may be:
- How old is that person?
- What do they do for a living?
- What are their personal interests?
- Does where they live play into how I can appeal to them with the right voice?
Forget about the creative ego or what you personally have to say on the subject. It’s all about the audience and how readers can gain knowledge, advice or a few good laughs from the final piece. That’s how writers create the content that actually connects and resonates with such varying audiences.
Honor thy predecessors
Consider this: You’re a writer and your newest client sells telescopes. You can’t remember the last time you used one, the only thing you know about the stars is that you’re a Gemini and you’re still a little upset about Pluto’s demotion. In other words, your client’s audience probably knows a lot more about telescopes and space than you do.
Thus, it’s time to do some research. Check out Scientific American, National Geographic, NASA and other experts in the field. Get a little more intimate with the topic you’re writing about.
Plus, think about how these trusted voices write about space. Ask yourself:
- Are there technical phrases you should use?
- How do they weave humor into their writing?
- Can you be casual? If Scientific American published “what neuron star stuff actually is” in a recent article about gravitational waves, odds are your client might be okay with you using a somewhat conversational tone.
If the client wants to appeal to a younger audience, reference the likes of Bill Nye (everyone’s favorite science guy) to master a more accessible, yet still educational tone.
Sometimes clients make this process even easier for writers. They offer books, blogs, articles and social posts as examples of the kind of voice they want their content to emulate.
The idea is to get comfortable reading the desired voice before you try to replicate it – and then tweak it to be totally unique to the client. After a while, writers can rely on experiences with various voices to easily fall back into specific tones for different projects.
Thou shalt follow Brafton role models
Not to toot our own horns or anything (alright maybe just a little), but we do a lot of this at Brafton. Our writers switch from client to client, often writing in at least three different voices each day.
Here’s what we mean:
In a blog post for a subscription billing B2B company, this Brafton writer skilfully communicates important points with a clear, straightforward and consistent voice:
“In short, sports streaming subscriptions can’t have one-size-fits-all pricing, as the cost of acquiring the rights to these games is too high to risk losing customers. Instead, streaming companies must utilize multifaceted bundling and pricing strategies that attract as many viewers as possible to get the maximum amount of revenue.”
The same writer also introduced a blog for a consumer-facing skincare company, with an oh-so-relatable, humorous and casual tone:
“Oh, acne. So many of us struggle with it, and just when we think things are under control, another flare up rears its ugly head.”
Another Brafton writer switches from describing hacktivists for a security solutions company blog to assuming the role of a staffing software expert with a lighthearted, casual blog – in first person no less. Take a look at how different these voices sound:
“Enter hacktivism, activities motivated by political or other ideas spurred by hackers. In many cases, these individuals aren’t marching with colorful signs or presenting their ideas as part of civil discourse, but are taking advantage of weaknesses to splash their ideas on an array of different, legitimate websites.”
“A very wise CIO of a public staffing agency once told me that if you can get your software to cover 80% of what you need out of the box then you are doing great. If a salesperson says that their amazing software can do everything, they are lying – it’s just not true.”
With such a strong understanding of different audiences and desired voices, Brafton writers are able to execute with valuable versatility.
Test thy skills
If you’re a writer looking to work for clients across various industries and niches, try your hand at this test.
Take any passage from an article or blog post you read today and rewrite it for different audiences and corresponding voices. The message has to remain the same, but the way you say it will differ. Think about the types of audiences and voices you may need to master for various clients, such as:
- Thought leadership and authoritative voice for an audience of corporate executives.
- Conversational tone that reaches general consumers.
- Casual yet authoritative voice for an audience of industry insiders.
- Straightforward and informative tone for those who want to read straight news.
- Humorous and casual voice that’s accessible for millennials currently in college.
Let’s try it with this (totally fictional) passage:
New research supports the health benefits of consuming berries. After eating strawberries and blueberries once a day for three months, participants reported a decrease in sinus problems.
That works for a crowd of general consumers wanting to read straight news, but if the audience were food nutrition experts, we might want to throw in more details and scientific lingo. If we’re writing with that humorous and casual voice that’s accessible for millennials currently in college, it might go something like this:
If you splurge on anything at the grocery store, let it be berries. Recent research shows that these superfoods can make you and your sinuses feel a whole lot better.
Alternatively, you can think about re-writing the passage for different people in your life. Consider the style of writing you would use if your mom and her friends were your audience, versus your cousin who just got married or your friend who currently lives in London.
Remember to have fun! This is the geeky stuff that writers in our industry love to do. Adding more voices to our repertoires and fine-tuning the ones we already know so well is what we do best.