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    The Business Middle

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Here's the best advice when it comes to voice: Use a conversational, yet professional voice. I've stated this before (see my last blog, "Voice Lessons"), and all of the leading writing experts, in one form or another, say the same thing. Write as if you were conversing with your working peers in a professional way - neither too informal or slangy nor too formal or stilted. Aim for somewhere in between those two extremes - the business middle.

    When it comes to voice, experience is the only true teacher, as it is with most acquired skills. (And voice is an acquired skill) Ask a baker how she is able to produce bread with just the right crust, and she will tell you that it comes from experimenting and experience. So too with voice. If you're truly comfortable with the way that you sound in your writing, then you have been at it awhile, consciously or unconsciously playing with the taste and texture of your words.

    But what if you lack experience? Well, you'll just have to be patient. Voice, remember, needs time and experience to develop. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to jumpstart the process:

    • Practice the craft. Write nonstop for at least 10 to 15 minutes daily. Write about anything and everything: A neighbor really grinds your beans. Write about it. You've heard about a new development at work. Write about it. Just be sure to approach each writing with honesty and sincerity. This practice will help you become more fluent as a writer and help you develop your writing personality. But this will only happen if you stick to a regular writing routine: Nulla dies sine linea. No day without a line.
    • Become a regular reader. Read anything and everything. Read newspapers, business magazines, popular magazines, mysteries, blogs, box tops. As you read, you will internalize different manners of expression, which will, in some mysterious way, become part of your own writing repertoire.
    • Strive for simplicity, clarity, and honesty. Of course, when you're just starting out, the temptation may be to do just the opposite - to impress the reader with your intelligence and vocabulary, to sound like someone that you're not. Well, resist the temptation and keep things simple and real. Unfortunately, this may be easier said than done. As editor Patricia T. O'Conner says, "Simplicity takes practice." So be prepared to revise or rewrite a message several times before you truly feel comfortable with it.
    • Look for good models. Refer to your company's style manual (if there is one) to get a feel for the voice in the writing models. Do they meet the business middle criteria? Do they sound "real" to you? Also refer to business writing Web sites such as UpWritePress.com or business writing books such as Write for Business for models to help you with voice.

    The main goal in all business writing is to present information clearly and accurately, but I believe that imparting the information with a little voice and sincerity can only enhance the message. I'm not referring to technical documents when I say this, but to most letters, messages, memos, news releases, flyers, brochures, and such. Just make sure to aim for the business middle:

    Too informal and casual: Thanks for the offer as Software-Training Specialist. I'll take the job for the money you offered.…

    The Business Middle: Thank you for offering me the position of Software-Training Specialist at Evergreen Medical Center. I am happy to accept the position at the annual salary of      .…

    Too formal and stilted: This correspondence is in reference to the position of Software-Training Specialist at Evergreen Medical Center. My decision is to agree to the conditions of employment for that position that were expressed to me.…

    - Dave Kemper