Janet L. Kayfetz

The art and craft of writing and speaking

Month: August, 2013

Voice, Rhythm, and Reading Aloud

Reading Aloud3

Voice and rhythm are subtle and important components of every written text.

Voice is about tone and style, and how the ideas and opinions you are writing about sound to your reader. Your reader will process the content, of course. But she will also “feel” things like your warmth, enthusiasm, fairness, disapproval, humor — and any other sentiment that comes through your writing.

For example, do you sound enthusiastic and knowledgeable? Do you sound aggressive, or arrogant? Does it seem like you lack a definable point of view? Do you position your argument in a balanced way? Does the text “feel” accessible to your readers, or is it dense and hard to read, with long sentences, fancy words, long paragraphs? Your voice is your logo; your stamp.

Rhythm is what pulls the reader through the text. It is the tempo and musicality of the read. Like voice and style, rhythm will be felt as a core idiosyncrasy of your writing. Does your writing pull the reader through the story quickly, or does the writing get bogged down with repetition and too many examples? Do you get to the main points quickly? Or does the reader have to work through a lot of text to know what you are arguing? Do the sentences feel short and choppy and slow the reader’s progress?

Often, a writer is not able to maintain consistent voice and rhythm through a long text. How do you know if the voice and rhythm of your text are smooth and consistent? Read your text aloud!

Reading the text aloud — to an interested and helpful listener or even to yourself if no one is available to listen — will reveal places in your writing where there is awkwardness or choppiness. You will feel the places that need your help. When you identify those places, make the necessary changes.

1) Sometimes you will want to change a word that is too stuffy — or too casual — for the context. Adjust your word choice so that the degree of formality is consistent throughout your text. The level of formality or casualness in a written text is broadcast not only through word choice, but also through the choices you make in sentence construction, sentence length, paragraph length. All of these characteristics affect voice — and rhythm as well.

2) Perhaps there are too many short sentences that might be combined in some way or even edited out.

3) Look for sentences that are too long in the context. Long sentences work — just not if they are too long and ask the reader to process too much in order to understand your point. Restructure these overly long sentences.

4) The same applies to paragraphs. Look for paragraphs that are too long and dense and need to be broken into two or three separate paragraphs. Why? So that your writing is more reader-friendly. Isn’t your goal to have your reader understand your argument? Maybe your reader is a reviewer or a grant officer. Go for readability.

5) Look for repetition and rework those areas.

After you make a change or two, read aloud again. Listen to your voice and to the musicality and flow of the text. Keep changing; adding; deleting; adjusting. Play with voice and rhythm until your text is as smooth as velvet.

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Annie Dillard on Editing

I love the blog Brain Pickings, especially when the subject is writing. Here is something interesting from today’s edition — excerpts from the writer Annie Dillard (from Ms. Dillard’s book The Writing Life) on

editing while you compose and

editing after you compose.

 “The reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses – to secure each sentence before building on it – is that original writing fashions a form. It unrolls out into nothingness. It grows cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop. Perfecting the work inch by inch, writing from the first word toward the last, displays the courage and fear this method induces.

[…]

The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends.”

Read the entire entry here.

The First Part of a Talk

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

The very first moments of a talk deserve your consideration. These first seconds should be practiced and perfected so that you feel confident about how to introduce yourself and move into your presentation in a fluent and natural way — even though you may be fighting the nerves that most of us feel when we stand in front of an audience.

This first connection with the audience sets the tone for the rest of your talk. It is during these first seconds that you as the speaker create the spirit of the experience. It is for you to decide how you want to present yourself and your material. Are you friendly? serious? authoritative? brilliant? collegial? humorous? nervous? calm? and so on. The audience will pick up much of the emotional feeling you project about yourself and your content in the introductory part of your talk, so rehearse until you are able to present yourself in the way you would like to be perceived.

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

It is very important to look at your audience during your entire introductory remarks, no matter if this section lasts 10 seconds or 2 minutes. I cannot stress this point enough. Try to look at all parts of the room where you have listeners so that everyone benefits from your connection. I know — this is not easy, depending on the size and shape of the room and the number of people in the audience. But try to make it happen. Looking at your audience in an authentic way, especially at the very beginning of a talk, signals that you are comfortable with yourself and with them.

Hold your focus on the audience and not on your first slide. In fact, I recommend that you memorize the information on your first slide (title, collaborators, advisor, and so on) so that you do not have to look away from the audience and read from your slide. Break eye contact with your audience only after completing your initial remarks as a way of transitioning to the next section of your talk.

And finally, try to hold your hands still during the very first seconds of your talk (by keeping them naturally by your side, by holding them together in front of you, by leaning on the podium, or by using some other technique to keep them out of the picture), and then introduce your hand gestures more organically as you develop your story.

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

UCSB Senior Capstone 2013

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