One way to stand out from the crowd is to be genuine. To be yourself. To be authentic about what you believe, why you believe it, and how that impacts your life.
All authenticity means for your writing is that your readers believe they are hearing you. No frills. No hidden agenda. Just your honest understanding of your topic.
It’s all about voice and tone
While researching authentic writing I came across this notion that students are being taught to write inauthentically (see here and here). That is, there may be a trend of students writing for the sake of a grade instead of writing because they care.
You don’t have to care about your topic to write authentically. You have to sound like you care. And to make your writing read authentically, you need to choose words that give that impression.
A brief recap from UMUC:
- Style is the mechanical/technical side of writing that may be specific to the requirements of the subject or topic.
- Tone is the attitude conveyed in the writing.
- Voice is the worldview and word choices of the author.
Authentic writing doesn’t only mean impassioned writing. You can write an academic paper authentically because authenticity is determined by readers as they assess the tone and voice of a piece.
Sounding authentic vs being authentic
Faking authenticity is totally possible. Your reader probably only has your words to assess whether or not you believe what you have written.
But is it worth faking authenticity? Writing with passion is the easiest way to write authentically—without trying.
But come on. It’s hard to be passionate about 90% of the writing you will do for other people. So what should you do?
I mean, the rest of this article will outline strategies to help make your tone and voice sound authentic. Or, you could find a way to synthesize passion for your topic.
My writing secret
I find a way to care, to be passionate about anything. How?
In one word: association.
If I can associate my topic with something that I care about, suddenly it’s really easy to care about the rest of the topic. It’s really not that hard, so here are a few examples:
- Golf is one of the most boring sports. But I really care about getting people outside and moving, which golf does. Now I care about writing about why high schools should offer golf as a part of their sports program.
- African decolonization has literally nothing to do with my life. But I am really interested in why Empires fail because I suspect America is doing so. Suddenly I’m interested in writing about how and why Britain and France relinquished their power over the continent.
- Ulysses is nearly impossible to read because half of the book is in a foreign language (or 7 different foreign languages). But I think America’s public education is failing students because it’s allowing them to be monolingual. Guess what I’ll be writing about for my Ulysses paper?
These are generic and broad examples. The principle can be applied to very specific prompts and causes. You can make yourself passionate about anything if you don’t want to fake it.
Manipulating tone and voice
How should you sound authentic? Well, what attitude (tone) are you trying to share?
What kind of a personality (voice) do you want the piece to have?
Think about the defining characteristics of your tonal and vocal choices. If you want an angry attitude, you would want to choose stronger words—you’re not mad, you’re furious. If you want a casual voice, you can use slang and/or emoticons.
The key to sounding authentic is choosing what kind of authenticity you want to portray, and writing logically from there. It’s tedious, to be sure, but sure to work.
From my snarky side
If I want to sound like I don’t care, aren’t I writing authentically?
Yes, you are writing authentically. But who will want to read it? I bet even you don’t, so get back to sounding authentic (or being authentic).
Benefits of authentic writing
I’m not sure that this even needs to be said. But here goes.
- is more fun to write. Period.
- is more fun to read. Because even if you don’t care, you are empathetic enough to care that someone else cares.
- is more convincing. Because hey, someone cares!
- is more likely to be read the whole way through. Probably.
Authentic writing is writing that matters. So buckle up and write like your topic is important—because it is.
What do you think—what constitutes authentic writing? Can you fake authentic writing, or does that completely defeat the point of writing authentically? What suggestions would you give to help someone write authentically about a topic they have no interest in? Share in the comments!