Voice, deconstructed

ink032Voice in writing can be best defined by breaking it down into its components. But the problem remains that voice is comprised of different things, depending on who you ask.

According to the Texas TAKS writing rubric, voice is demonstrated if:

The writer engages the reader and sustains this connection throughout the composition. The composition sounds authentic and original. The writer is able to express his/her individuality or unique perspective.1

For this rubric, voice components would be:

  • engaging  (appealing , interesting)
  • authentic (genuine, realistic)
  • original (creative, distinctive)

First, there is little way of discerning if the composition is authentic without personally knowing the author.  So authentic probably refers to idea that the writing doesn’t sound like someone else wrote it  – or like something they have read before – basically the same thing as original.  Of course, the readers would judge both engaging and original based on their own interests and past exposure to new ideas. The reader’s background brings as much to the table in determining if the writer shows a well-developed voice as the writer does.

According to 6 +1 writing traits as described by Northwest Regional Education Laboratory. Voice is “the personal tone and flavor of the author’s message” and this is further defined by stating:

When the writer is engaged personally with the topic, he/she imparts a personal tone and flavor to the piece that is unmistakably his/hers alone. And it is that individual something–different from the mark of all other writers–that we call Voice. 2

Apparently the engaging, authentic and original definition found in the TAKS rubric, is copied and therefore, has no voice of its own. But it is more concise and easier to understand.

If I look elsewhere, I can find voice defined with more complexity. According to document by Greece, New York  Central School district:

Voice can be defined as the writer’s awareness and effective use of such elements as diction, tone, syntax, unity, coherence and audience to create a clear and distinct “personality of the writer,”3

As you continue to read, you’ll discover that according to the proscribed method each of those characteristics  are to be taught one at a time in order.

For instance, under Diction, you may only introduce tone; under Tone, you may only use characterization, you may not introduce Syntax until later on; you can then build on these basics as your students’ understanding grows and develops.3

Does that mean students would learn how to determine the type of words to use and to order them in the sentences before even considering what kind of logical content they are creating? The definition is better than the technique for teaching it. Also, to tell you the truth, although my “audience” may determine whether my writing has voice or not, I have never effectively used “audience” when writing. So if I leave out audience I end up with a list of voice components that include:

  • Diction (choice of words)
  • Tone (attitude expressed by words and ideas)
  • Syntax (order of words)
  • Unity (focus)
  • Coherence (logic of organization)

Another word I hear frequently in the definition of voice is “style.” The term “style of writing” has been thrown around for a lot longer than voice.  So does the writer’s voice simply refer to a distinctive or original style? Because the definition of voice is so nebulous, the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) does not even mention it in when describing writing, nor does the Common Core State Standards Initiative – but every writer, professional or amateur, will tell you the writer’s voice still exists.

Artwork by S.L.Listman

1 http://www.tea.state.tx.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=2147487762&libID=2147487761
2 http://educationnorthwest.org/resource/503
3 http://www.greece.k12.ny.us/academics.cfm?subpage=944

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