RE: Retaining author's voice

Subject: RE: Retaining author's voice
From: "Lauren" <lt34 -at- csus -dot- edu>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2007 13:08:45 -0700

First off, I should probably define what I consider to be the "neutral"
voice. Documents should be neither too passive that they sound weak, nor
too active that they seem to not consider the audience at all. The voice
should be appropriate for the document and consistent with the collection of
documents of a particular group or project. One purpose of a consistent
voice is to allow readers to adjust to one voice and then not need to adjust
to another voice in another document. This is important when readers need
to delve into big repositories of documents to find information. Readers
should not feel that they need to shift gears between documents. The voice
should also reflect the overall tone of the group. So when a reader reads a
document, the reader can get an idea of where the document came from.

I've adjusted the voice when I edited documents from others. I would work
up the documents in a somewhat neutral voice and get compliments from the
writers about how professional the writer's work sounded after I worked with
it. A lot of times, writers would not know how to say what needed to be
said and I could bring cogency into their otherwise less than satisfactory
documentation. Writers that have seen what I do to their documents are
usually pleased with what I do because it sometimes makes their work (their
job) stand out as important when, without documentation, employees have
difficulty explaining and justifying their work.

Often times the voice of documentation I receive from writers is not really
appropriate for the final document. At one position where I documented Help
Desk processes, a writer wrote lengthy and almost emotional narratives about
the processes. Some of the documentation included what seemed like
compassion for the callers to the Help Desk. I neutralized the voice of
document because I was editing documents from about 10 writers/SMEs and the
documents needed to match so that they would read correctly. The project
manager and I didn't want readers of the document collection to feel they
were reading about another operations center when they were only reading
about another group within the center. One of the SMEs later hired me to
help with his start-up company because he liked what I did.

For an FSR that I wrote with the help of SMEs from different countries, I
needed to make the document sound like it came from one country. I also
needed to adjust for some writers that wrote with a very passive voice and
others that wrote with an overly active voice. The document needed to be
neutral and strong because it needed to command authority. We couldn't risk
sounding too weak to manage the job or to overly confident to factor all of
the risks, so the voice needed to represent the strength of the company.

I was told that the proposal I recently wrote had won because we sounded
like we were the most organized and prepared out of all of the bidders, but
we were the high bidders. I contributed more to that document than just
voice, but I think that maintaining an active voice that spoke to the
audience instead of at the audience played a factor.

I like to visualize my audience and speak to them, rather than at them. I
try to "hear" what I write (at least in professional documentation) and then
think about how it would sound to me if I were that reader. It doesn't
matter what we think the purpose of our writing is, when people read, they
tend to "hear" the words as though they a person talking to them and we need
to be cognizant of how that "person" sounds to the reader.

Some of the documents that I've edited have read like informal conversations
that did not convey much about how to do a job when the document was
supposed to tell me how to do the job. Other documents read as though I,
the reader, am being ordered to do something and I have no choice in the
matter, so they seemed a little threatening. Naturally, there are the
unfocused documents and the too narrowly-focused documents. These can fall
into the voice category too. It really doesn't matter what we think about
the purpose of our documentation, voice is always there.



From: Sandra Carden, Carden Works, LLC [mailto:src -at- cardenworks -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, July 12, 2007 4:13 AM
Cc: Lauren
Subject: RE: Retaining author's voice, was How to Use English
PunctuationCorrectly - wikiHow

Lauren asks if any writers on this forum identify with Louis
Menand's comments (in his review of Eats, Shoots, & Leaves) about authors'
concern regarding their voice being retained in their writings.

I'm a technical editor (not a writer) of long documents written by
civil, mechanical, and structural engineers, and while the authors may not
be concerned about it, I do work to retain the author's voice in each
report. I have the idea that it's one of the things about my work that they
appreciate, even if they don't specifically identify it.

Sandra Carden
Technical editing, layout, and design
src -at- cardenworks -dot- com


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RE: Retaining author's voice, was How to Use English Punctuation Correctly - wikiHow: From: Sandra Carden, Carden Works, LLC

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