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Monday, September 6, 2010

Opinion or Analysis? Recognize the domain. Choose the stance. Then, write.

We have so many opportunities to offer our opinion now that we have almost forgotten that sometimes not only is our opinion not really desired, voicing it actually impedes fulfilling our purpose.  (Yes, your personality can get in the way of making your point.)

For no matter the medium or the situation, skilled writers remember their purpose while writing, work continuously to know the audience, and then choose which stance to take in order to make the case--intrigue the reader, fulfill the purpose and not offend the reader by making one's personal opinion a hurdle to jump.

Sometimes it is.  Too often writers axiomatically adopt a casual voice, a first-person opinionated position because that's the tenor of society, but it's not always the best choice or the strongest stance to take.  When you choose this stance, you are gambling that your readers already agree with you about some points.  You think this because you feel so strongly about it that you can't envision anyone disagreeing with you.

Just because you feel strongly about something doesn't mean that the passion or conviction you feel should be the dynamic you trust to make your case or that others share your convictions.  The problem is that we use our personal voice so often we forget that there are other stances to choose that could fit a situation better.

For instance, take a look at your opportunities to write today.  E-mail, Facebook, .

In each instance, you need to choose to show up on the page as a personal voice or the voice of objectivity.  The more you write for the social media, the more your casual voice is cultivated--is brought to the surface of daily life and stays there.  But it's not an all-purpose voice.  You can be casual on Facebook if it's not the company's Facebook page and you may write personal e-mails, but that voice doesn't fit your company e-mail voice or your professional voice on or sites like it that build professional contacts in a different way than your personal Facebook page.

Sometimes you need to use the voice of analysis, which is a very powerful choice if you are in charge.

  • People who are self conscious about their own authority often choose the first-person colloquial voice and stance as a form of apology for being in charge.  When they do, they risk undermining their own authority when it will count and, along the way, weaken the team because a team needs a strong leader the way a family needs the discipline of parents.
  • When writing for the company, you use a royal stance--a "we" approach, and your tone represents the trust that you company posits in you as the voice of the company.  It should be your friendly but firm voice--simultaneously approachable but with boundaries set. 
  • Colloquial expressions that are so much a part of coming and going  in daily life don't belong in professional documents that need the boss's voice.  Excise:  see ya, well, yeah, hey, and any emoticon that brings up visions of you playing the sandbox with your playmates.
The workplace should be relaxed, but it is not a sandbox.  It is an environment where logic usually trumps emotion. The voice of authority should sound like someone who who understands that co-workers are not playmates but teammates.  On any team, there is a captain, and if that's you, use your captain's voice.

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