Strong Voice

There’s a difference between a voice and an opinion. Everyone has opinions, deeply held or otherwise. And some of those opinions are dehumanizing garbage. We don’t need to get into those right now.

I’ve been thinking lately why my academic doubts have continued to grow smaller and smaller. Yes, I’m particularly interested in the material, and yes, it’s tied to what I want to do professionally, but that was true in my MA as well, and the writing didn’t flow as much as it does now.

Surely I will struggle in certain classes as my degree continues. But I come back to one particular item of a rubric I saw last fall.

In my introductory class, we were tasked with trying to create a project proposal for a study we may or may not do. In my case, it’s related to what I’ll probably put together in the next two years, but not precisely the same. One of the ways in which we were graded was on “evidence of strong voice.” This is different from the other items, which were much more objective. But it was encouraging to me, and I tried to write with my authentic linguistic patterns for almost the first time in my academic career.

I’ve written good papers before, papers that received high grades, but I wasn’t really in the words of those papers. Anyone with certain experiences could have written them, and thus they really weren’t as good as they could have been. Now, I ended up losing points on this assignment because I messed up the APA, but that goes to an important point: you do need to learn the standardized forms and practices so that you can choose to deviate from them, and part of what we’re learning is what publications will expect of us as writers.

When I say that I find much of academic writing to be of not particularly high quality, I am not referring to the findings or methodology. To me, the most interesting part of an empirical study is the discussion, where the authors can really stretch their expository legs and get some heft under their work. Although I do plan to conduct studies over time, I find the best writing comes when the author’s voice is clear and present, even if I disagree with their analysis and their points.

You can tell – or at least, I think you can tell – that someone has contorted their voice into what they hope will be accepted by editors and reviewers, because it sounds and feels choppy. I hope this doesn’t happen to me, though I’m sure, to some extent, it will.

Nevertheless, I want all of my writing, whether for school, on here, or for a larger public someday, to be technically sound and scholarly, but also unmistakeably mine to whose who have read or listened to me. And if it doesn’t sound like I’d say it, then I shouldn’t write it.

I hope this doesn’t mean that people think writing doesn’t take considerable effort. Of course that is not the case. However, in my view, and I finally feel confident in saying this, that effort should be put towards expressing your authentic voice in the strongest possible fashion. Anything else is just holding you back.