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The Elements of Voice in Writing Article #1: Diction
Anthony Risko
June 26, 2023

One element of writing that sets apart the good writers from the great writers is voice. Voice is moreso an art, not simply a skill to be taught and learned. Voice develops over time, voice can be refined, and voice can even change as an author changes. Voice may even be the number one reason that readers flock to specific authors. 

"Voice" in writing refers to the unique style and personality of the author that comes through in their writing. It is the way in which an author's writing sounds and feels to the reader, and it is often what distinguishes one writer's work from another's. An author's voice can be influenced by a variety of factors, including their background, education, culture, and personal experiences. It can manifest in their choice of words, sentence structure, tone, and style. A strong voice can make the writing more engaging, memorable, and impactful.

Voice can be difficult to define, as it is an intangible quality that can be difficult to quantify. However, it is an essential aspect of effective writing, as it helps to establish a connection between the writer and the reader. By developing a strong voice, writers can create a more authentic and meaningful connection with their audience and make their writing stand out in a crowded field.

Teaching students how to implement voice in their writing can be challenging at first, but not impossible. Over the next five articles, we will explore five commonly recognized elements of voice in writing and how you can help your students practice and master these elements.

Voice: Diction

We’ll begin with a shared definition. Diction refers to the author's choice and use of words. An author's diction can reveal their tone, attitude, and personality. For example, a writer who uses complex and technical vocabulary may come across as authoritative or academic, while a writer who uses informal language may come across as casual and approachable.

Two common examples of the use of diction in writing are formal writing and informal writing. In formal writing, an author might use language that is elevated, precise, and sophisticated to convey authority and credibility. Students may choose to use formal diction when they are writing a research paper, a news article, or a literary analysis essay. The following is an example of formal diction that conveys authority and expertise. 

“The monarchical rule during the early modern period is characterized by a highly centralized political structure, whereby the king exercised absolute authority over his subjects, thus resulting in an overarching influence on society.”

In contrast, an author might use informal diction in their writing to create a relaxed, conversational, and familiar tone. Students can effectively use informal diction when they are writing a blog post, a personal narrative, or even a persuasive or opinion essay. Here is an example of informal diction that allows the writer to be perceived as more relatable. 

“I woke up feeling like a truck hit me, but I had to drag myself out of bed to make it to my 9 AM soccer practice. Honestly, the struggle is real, but caffeine is my savior, and I can’t function without my daily Starbucks.” 

These are two stark examples of how an author may employ formal and informal diction in order to create a distinct tone or mood with the reader. 

One effective activity that teachers can use to teach students about diction is a word choice exercise. Here's how it can work:

First, provide students with a short passage of text, such as a paragraph or a poem. Next, ask students to identify the tone and mood of the text, and to explain how the author's word choice contributes to that tone and mood. Then, ask students to rewrite the passage using different words with contrasting connotations. For example, they could replace words with positive connotations with words that have negative connotations, or vice versa.

After rewriting the passage, ask students to compare the original text with their own revised version, and then discuss how the changes in word choice affect the tone and mood of the text. Finally, have students reflect on how they might use this understanding of diction in their own writing. 

This activity can help students develop their understanding of how word choice (diction) affects the tone and mood and overall voice of a piece of writing. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice their own choice of words when writing and to think critically about how they use language. 

Understanding and developing diction is the first step for young writers to create voice in their writing. Next, we will explore syntax. 

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