A seagull with an open mouth looking like he is making noiseOnce you have considered your audience and established your purpose, it’s time to think about voice. Your voice in your writing is essentially how you sound to your audience. Voice is an important part of writing a research paper, but many students never stop to think about voice in their writing. It’s important to remember voice is relative to audience and purpose. The voice you decide to use will have a great impact on your audience.

  • Formal – When using a formal, academic or professional voice, you’ll want to be sure to avoid slang and clichés, like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” You’ll want to avoid conversational tone and even contractions. So, instead of “can’t,” you would want to use “cannot.” You’ll want to think about your academic or professional audience and think about what kind of impression you want your voice to make on that audience.
  • Semi-formal – A semi-formal tone is not quite as formal as a formal, academic or professional tone. Although you would certainly want to avoid slang and clichés, you might use contractions, and you might consider a tone that is a little more conversational.

Students sometimes make errors in voice, which can have a negative impact on an essay. For example, when writing researched essays for the first time, many students lose their voices entirely to research, and the essay reads more like a list of what other people have said on a particular topic than a real essay. In a research essay, you want to balance your voice with the voices from your sources.

It’s also easy to use a voice that is too informal for college writing, especially when you are just becoming familiar with academia and college expectations. The tips on Academic Voice in the Writing Process area of the Excelsior OWL are helpful.

Ultimately, thinking about your writing rhetorically will help you establish a strong, appropriate voice for your writing.

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