Voice, Rhythm, and Reading Aloud
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.