Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Author

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Developing an Authorial Voice[edit | edit source]

There are many types of writing, from formal writing, to scientific writing, technical writing, creative writing, and so on. It is important to discern what the purpose of your text will be to decide upon your tone and authorial voice within your composition.

Business writing holds its own challenges, as one has to balance a number of styles at once. Avoid being condescending, yet remain professional and use appropriate language. Adjust your style to fit different occasions. Observe others and examine their stylistic approach, but never change yourself in order to become more like another. The following are some ideas to help define your authorial voice.

Also see: Developing an Effective Style

Identify Your Audience[edit | edit source]

Who Is Going To Read This?[edit | edit source]

This is perhaps the most important step when writing. Identifying your audience has the potential to define your entire document, regardless of purpose. Defining an audience will influence just about everything in your document. It can influence purpose, tone, jargon, everything. Figuring out who you are addressing will be both a challenge and a very beneficial achievement. Once you determine your audience, your document must reflect this, no matter what. If the reader gets the impression that they are not the audience any longer, why would they keep reading? It is important to always check to make sure you are still addressing the same audience.

The persuasiveness of an argument can be directly related to the tone and language in your document. Think of your writing as your own voice. Thinking of writing as your own voice will help you articulate your words onto the page. The goal is to entice your audience to continue reading and persuade the reader to agree or at the very least understand the perspective of your work.

How Formal is the Occasion?[edit | edit source]

Your writing style should adapt to fit each new situation. Informal writing styles will sound conversational. Informal styles include contractions, shorter words, and occasional metaphors. Formal writing styles may be more appropriate for lectures or reports. Formal writing will include longer, "SAT" words, and formal structure. You should consider what context your writing will be in, as the tone of your article could determine the reader's opinion. It is up to you as the author to evaluate the information you want to present and what type of writing style best suits the situation. It is important to find a balance between each that is conducive to your situation.

Subjective Writing vs. Objective Writing[edit | edit source]

This refers to whether or not you use the first person in your text, or mask your presence. You can either choose a third person perspective or a passive perspective.

  • First Person: In first person tense, the author addresses themselves as the author. I am currently using subjective context, as I am referring to myself, the author.
  • Third Person: In third person tense, the author would be referring to themselves as if they were referring to someone else.
  • Passive Voice: In a passive voice, there is no author to refer to (phrases such as "it was discovered that...", or "during research it was found that...").

Establishing the Relationship between You and Your Intended Audience[edit | edit source]

It is important to consider how your reader views you, the author. You should consider your direct relationship to your reader.

  • Are you their supervisor or subordinate?
  • What is the purpose of your text? (routine subject or urgent matter?)
  • How are you communicating? Emails will vary in tone from formal reports.
  • Consider your employment's customs in writing (review their previous documentation)

By anticipating what your readers expect, the persuasiveness of your argument can be affected to your benefit. If your manager is reading your report, it should be objective, professional, and clear. If you are writing an email to a coworker, subjective language is appropriate. Consider the occasion carefully before choosing your tone.

Define Your Role to Your Reader[edit | edit source]

This is especially important to consider when writing a professional document. Defining your role as author is important. If you are the manager of a company you should not write a personable, first person memo unless the situation calls for it. However, avoiding a domineering, overpowering voice is important, as you do not want to patronize your reader. If you are writing to a coworker, it is important to maintain a balance between conveying your point, and maintaining your status as a peer. You don't want to seem overbearing and degrading, but you also don't want to come across as unsure of your purpose.

Attitude as an Author[edit | edit source]

The tone of your text conveys an attitude. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, your attitude can be easily determined by the language you use when addressing your reader. "Never include anything in the text you would be embarrassed if a large audience read" (Anderson, 261).

Use Your Own Words[edit | edit source]

It is extremely important to maintain your own point of view when writing, no matter the tone or purpose. Anderson suggests reading your text aloud to determine if it sounds like something you would say. Writing formally should still sound like it came from you - the mission is not to silence your voice but to enhance it.

Something to avoid falling into is "Bureaucratese" - a mindless way of 'puffing up' language and text to make it sound more important. Insurance companies and other businesses have been accused of doing this, making it extremely difficult for the common reader to understand policies. You can avoid this by sticking to plain English context.

Also, avoid any sarcasm within your text. Sarcasm is, essentially, saying one thing but meaning another. It is often extremely useful for making a point, but this will often not come across to your audience, especially in written communication, and can create misunderstandings. Also, consider your role as the author and avoid terms that could offend or upset your reader.


"In order to successfully review the technicalities of this experiment, I will be conducting a usability test." vs. "To review the effectiveness of this experiment, I will conduct a usability test." or "In order to facilitate the utilization of the vehicle, the inclusion of copious instructional material is recommended." vs. "To make use of the car easier, include instructions."

In each of these examples, the second sentence is much more concise and clear.

Cultural Contexts[edit | edit source]

Writing in plain English is extremely important to learn because it can be easily translated into other languages. In the business world, a text may have to be translated into multiple languages. The more concise a piece of writing, the easier it is to translate. Cultural metaphors and terms may not easily cross cultural boundaries: "Where the rubber meets the road" may mean absolutely nothing to someone in Korea, or even in another English-speaking country.

Making your own cultural and geographical position clear, as an author, can also help others to interpret your writing. The country your text will be sent to, if distribution is limited, is an extremely important factor in business writing, and can be important for technical and scientific writing. In the USA, talking about oneself (the author) may be intended to convey a friendly confidence in the reader; in other countries it may look like an inflated sense of self-importance, or bragging. Does the reader really want or need to know you, for the purposes of the text? Considering the reader's cultural background will help you to avoid embarrassing mistakes in cross-cultural technical writing.

Learning as much as possible about the common styles used in the country you are writing for will help improve your style and a reader's perceptions of your text.

Find readers for your drafts[edit | edit source]

In a commercial writing environment, it may be difficult to find volunteer readers for your drafts. You may need to find readers in your own company - a captive audience. It can also be very instructive to read the text out loud to yourself, pacing it (for example) to the imagined pace and sequence of activities for which instruction or technical information is being given. If you work and write for a large company, it may be possible to organize test-reading groups within the company. If you are an independent technical writer, and confidentiality is not critical, then you can try looking for potential test-readers through the Internet. The Research Cooperative, [1], for example, is an NPO with a large online community of researchers, writers, and editors involved with many different areas of science and technology. The forums can be used to seek volunteer or paid readers/editors/reviewers or help with any other aspect of technical and scientific writing and publishing. Test-readers can be made more-or-less visible in the eventual text, in various ways, adding another kind of voice to your work - the voice of a group that is familiar with the subject you are writing about, and sympathetic to the experiences of new readers.

Ethics[edit | edit source]

Avoid error, cultural insensitivity, libel, and conflict of interest. Acknowledge literary and other media sources. Acknowledge colleagues, editors and other human sources of help. These may be obvious matters, and are covered elsewhere in this book, but taking a recognizable ethical stance can help to give readers confidence in the author and the information provided.