This post comes to us from the incredible Dr. Jessica Vogelsang.
Have you ever sat through a stand-up comedy set so ridiculously funny you were snorting, “I can’t breathe!” Or been at a club where the comedian was clearly bombing, and the entire audience sat there in a tense, awkward standoff until the painful set was over?
Ever had that experience during a classroom lecture? Probably not. I mean, it’s possible that your lecturer made such a deep, emotional connection with you over the Krebs cycle that the experience haunts your dreams to this day, but I’m guessing that’s highly unlikely. I’m embarrassed to admit how many neurology lectures lulled me into a light, restful sleep sophomore year. It also explains some of my knowledge gaps.
So here’s the deal: communication, be it blogging or writing social media copy or scripting video content, relies on voice to connect with people. That voice, the personality of your narrator, can make people love you (the great comedian), hate you (the terrible comedian), or not really care about you one way or the other (the lecturer.) Intentionally or not, you’ve already created a voice of sorts the second your website went live, so how do you make that work for you?
Voice isn’t exactly a beginner concept. It is intimately connected with a brand, a complicated mishmash of tone, content choice, cadence, and vocabulary. It’s intimidating, but you don’t need a copywriter’s background to up your game. All you need is to understand the basic building blocks that make up your voice, and how you can begin to integrate them into every piece of content you create.
I Know It When I See It
Without a single bit of training, you already intuitively know what tone looks like in action. Here, let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re trying to create a blog about fleas. Which of the following introductions sounds the best to you?
- I iz itcheez! Ma, mah butt won’t stop the scratches!
- Flea, the common name for the order Siphonaptera, includes 2,500 species of small flightless insects that survive as external parasites of mammals and birds. Fleas live by consuming blood, or hematophagy, from their hosts.
- There’s nothing more frustrating than watching your poor pooch go to town on their tail for hours at a time, gnawing their rear end until it’s bald, red, and oozy.
- When I was a kid, we had a severely flea-allergic Lhasa Apso named Taffy. For the majority of her life, we kept her shaved to near-bald status. It was the only way we could effectively apply the smelly dips, noxious pesticides, and flea combs that were our only defense against the minuscule soldiers of pain we call fleas.
Same topic, vastly different approaches, yes? I think most of us would agree that both A and B leave something to be desired. People love using first-person pet-speak on Instagram, in memes, and in other cutesy forms of communication. Still, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that you’re going to know how to solve their problem. There’s no authority there.
Authority isn’t a necessary component of voice, but it is for a healthcare provider whose influence relies on trust. Option B is very authoritative and fact-based, but it doesn’t really connect with the reader. It reads more like an encyclopedia entry (which makes sense, as this is the intro from Wikipedia.) This “Voice of God” approach works when you’re already seen as the ultimate authority on a topic, but it doesn’t do much to relationship-build.
Option D is how I write on pawcurious, after ten years of honing an exact voice and point-of-view. For people comfortable with writing and storytelling, it’s a very effective way to introduce an educational topic while also engaging the reader in the outcome, but it’s not for beginners. That’s totally fine.
This leaves us with Option C, which is how I write almost all of my content for readerships outside my own blog. In writer-y terms, we call this one, “The Translator.” This voice works really well for clinic blogs because the style aligns perfectly with your role in the clinic: helping your clients’ process complex medical information in easy-to-understand terms.
So what are the critical elements of writing in the Translator’s voice?
- Layman’s terms. As veterinarians, we have it hammered into our heads to be as precise as possible in our records and our communications. Even for those of us who pride ourselves on jargon-free language, it can take a real conscious effort to replace medical terms with simple ones when that is often viewed as a fault in professional circles. Your readers don’t need to be educated on what the word “pruritus” means. Just say, “itchy.”
- Shorter sentences. Have you ever sat slumped over the keyboard, wondering how you were going to assemble a blog post amid the hustle and bustle of the barking dogs, receptionists interrupting your thoughts, worrying about the dog recovering in surgery, and eyeballing the stacks of lab reports you need to call back, and lost track of what you were saying at the beginning of the sentence? Yes. Keep sentences short.
- Empathy. To me, this is the one thing people who excel at accessible language forget to do that puts the cherry on the sundae. Sure, you can explain fleas till the cows come home, but what owners want even more than a spot-on recommendation is to know that you get just how much fleas suck. Acknowledge the impact of the problem you’re solving has on the owner’s lives, and you’re golden.
The best way to improve is just by practice. Write some copy, take it on over to the Hemingway app for a free evaluation, and just keep at it! For reference, this blog clocked in at a Grade 8 and straddles voices C and D. Happy writing!