How To Edit A Document For Voice

Learn how to use writing voice effectively to improve the meaning of your job-related documents, such as letters, reports, and presentations.

When editing, revising, or proofreading a professional document, writers often overlook the effectiveness of a clear voice. A writer's voice can mean the tone or mood that infuses a document. It also has to do with a writer's personality and style. Here are some things to consider when editing a document to improve its voice:

1. Professional documents need a simple voice. Avoid extreme tone or personality features when writing and editing job-related documents. Humor may not be needed at all, while sarcasm may be used sparingly, depending on a document's purpose and context. Determine what the document's ultimate goal is to be and work on editing voice from that standpoint. For example, when designing a training presentation, you can probably include humorous cartoons in a PowerPoint demonstration. You may want to add sarcastic political innuendo as examples to avoid in professional writing. Look for samples of various types of voices and then decide how to edit them into your work.

2. Eliminate personal emotion from the piece. If you find evidence of the writer's anger, gaiety, frustration, or disappointment, find ways to reword that area to downplay or get rid of emotional language. Professional documents seldom need much emotion, unless you are preparing an inspirational speech or sales talk. If you choose to leave in a small amount of voice or mood, rephrase it for subtle nuances rather than let it boom through the piece.

3. Get a second opinion. If you're not sure of the original writer's intent, ask in the editing phase. Or if you wrote the piece or the original writer is unavailable, ask someone else in the office who can offer helpful insight. Don't rely exclusively on your own interpretation if you are not used to working with this writer or this type of document. You also can check a style guide that should be kept available in the office. Or visit an online writing site for help with editing for voice.

4. When in doubt, leave it out. In other words, play down any strong language that you feel is questionable. Profanity, racial slurs, or distasteful jokes may need to be omitted, and if you have full editing license, remove such things. But if you feel you may get in trouble for doing so, restate those areas in less provocative ways, and be prepared to explain why when your supervisor questions such edits.

5. Experiment with rhetorical language. Edit metaphors or similes into the writing to make it more clear. Try an historical allusion or a synecdoche (when a part represents the whole, like a crown for a kingdom). Take a little creative license if you have the authority to do so, but keep in mind your ultimate readers' needs, as clarity is your first priority, with creativity a distant second or third goal.

Editing a piece of writing can be challenging work. Study quality or classical writing forms to become familiar with the great and the grungy. Then when you have the chance, tinker with a document to help reveal its hidden message and evoke positive responses from intended readers.

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