Define Your Voice
The lesson “Translate Your Voice Into Words” in the The Yahoo Style Guide explains voice as the choices you make. As you write you make vocabulary, grammatical, organization and rhythm choices. These help you to express your own unique writing voice.
The Yahoo Style Guide offers these tips to help you express your voice while optimizing your content for the web.
Eye tracking research shows that online readers scan a page and decide in seconds to stay or move on. If they stay, they concentrate on the upper right corner. You have only words and pictures to draw their attention. If you have no pictures, you have only words.
Choose simple words for readers who scan your content or use small digital devices such as cell phones. Short, common words are less likely to be misread or misunderstood.
Write with words that suit your voice. Avoid slang if your voice is conservative. Try coining new words if your voice is cutting edge.
-No matter what my tenth grade English teacher said, I don’t need to use all those complicated words.
-From now on it’s GPS instead of “Global Positioning System” and buy instead of “purchase.”
-I should always remember to KISS (keep it simple stupid).
Simple Sentence Structure
For online writing, simple subject-verb-object sentences work best.They follow the online writing goals of keeping it simple and putting the important information first. Subject-verb-object is a simple sentence structure most readers will understand.
Simple works for all levels of comprehension and for those who do only a quick scan of your page.
-I don’t really have to vary my sentence structure like standard writing wisdom says.
-Simple structure is what works for online writing.
-Who cares if I write “The path is solid beneath Jane’s swift feet” when all the reader really needs to know is “Jane runs fast.”
Formal vs Informal Site
Vary sentence style and structure depending on the degree of site formality. A writer for an academic site can get technical and should use complete sentences.
If you write for an entertainment site, feel free to break the rules. Use sentence fragments without subjects or verbs if you choose. You may also begin sentences with prepositions.
-It took me years to convince myself it was okay to begin sentences with “and” or “but.” I will continue to do that, but not on formal articles.
-When I write craft tutorials, (less formal) It’s okay if I don’t use full sentences.
Organize your online writing with short pages and compact paragraphs. Simple, concise headings help viewers find what they’re looking for. Break subjects into small pieces for better understanding.
You can still write content that shows your voice. Organize and highlight it with bulleted lists. Choose the organization style and flow that works for your audience and subject.
-I should arrange the content for my reader not me.
-Simple headings engage readers who may only scan the page.
-Bulleted lists will help me highlight information.
Punctuation and Format
Keep punctuation simple. If your style calls for drama, bend the rules to show your voice. For an informal site, use…… or (bracketed) comments. Standard punctuation is best for a formal site.
Unclutter your sentences. Eliminate multiple commas. Break up complex sentences into a few short easy to read statements. Avoid exclamation points. Use strong, clear words to get your point across.
Avoid “loud” formatting. Don’t overuse boldface or italics. Stick with the same font size. Don’t change colors mid paragraph. These things can make your writing difficult to read.
-I must avoid complex sentences even if they are properly punctuated. All those commas and semicolons can be annoying.
-I will not loud-talk my readers with punctuation.
Avoid specialized jargon or technical terms. Some readers won’t understand you. Web readers don’t like slowing down to figure out what you’re trying to say.
If you must use a technical term, follow it with a brief, easy to understand explanation.
-I worked for Insurance companies for 20 years. Words like “indemnification” come naturlly to me. They will slow down a typical web reader.
-If I really must use a word like “indemnification,” I should follow it with a simple explanation.
Know your readers, but write for a wide audience. Avoid slang and cliches only one group, culture or religion might understand.
Use culture/religious/group references only if you are targeting a narrow segment of the population.
-Avoid use slang words. I know what “funkified” means but some people don’t.
-Never use a cultural reference I don’t thoroughly understand.
Metaphor, simile, alliteration, rhyme, and repetition can help you create a unique message. These writing techniques may get in the way if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say.
Use grammatical devices that enhance your message. Avoid showy language for the sake of showing off.
-It’s a good thing I don’t use sports metaphors. I want a diverse, worldwide readership.
-I will only rhyme if I’m writing a poem.
Yahoo! Style Guide -Translate Voice Into Words