Writing in Someone Else's Voice
When you write for yourself, you need to find your voice--your own, authentic way of expressing your thoughts.
But when you are writing something that goes under another person's or organization's name, you have to write in his/her/its voice.
Every person and organization has a distinct communications style, often without consciously thinking about it. Some are breezy, some more formal. Certain words and phrases are favored, others are political minefields. For example, should you refer to patients, victims, clients, individuals with [...], or some other word?
If you have an assignment to write in someone else's voice, you have to capture it as closely as you can. How? For simplicity's sake, I assume we're talking about a person in the suggestions below, but remember that an organization or company also has a voice.
Immerse yourself. Read everything you can that he or she has written or presented, especially about the topic. Ideally, meet with the person, hearing turns of phrases and favorite anecdotes. Just think how different your piece would be if you wrote for the President versus the Vice President.
Read and listen to others in the field. Become familiar with how the issue is covered elsewhere. The topic will govern where you look--financial websites, mommy blogs, direct mail letters, etc.
Marry what you glean with what the piece calls for. Each type of writing has conventions that supersede individual style. For example, this newsletter has covered op-eds and speechwriting. An article on education will be different in an academic journal versus a newsletter for teachers.
Get feedback and revise. Test your draft on others who know the voice you are trying to capture. Plan for time to revise. The person may create a final version, based on your draft but sprinkled with his or her own preferences. So be it.
Clear the brain. If you have two assignments to write in two different voices, don't expect to move seamlessly from one to the other. Work on one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Or on different days. Or at least take a walk around the building between tasks.
A note about editing
As editors, we often work on pieces in which the author has a very different voice or style than our own. Although occasionally we are asked to overhaul the writing, more likely we need to respect the author's voice. Of course, question unclear passages. But respect the voice.
If you find it difficult, edit for a while, then go create your own piece--in your "uniquely you" voice!
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