Find, express and maintain your writing voice
What is ‘voice’ in academic writing?
In academic writing, your ‘voice’ is the means by which you exhibit control over the assignment topic you are responding to. At university, your reader wants to know what you think based on what you have read, and what conclusions you draw as a result of your research. In short, they are not ultimately looking for a summary of the published ideas, but rather your insights into the topic after you have completed the research process.
You will be required to present your academic position in response to an assignment topic in most written assessment tasks. This usually involves researching the topic by finding and reading relevant literature, considering the range of views in that literature about the topic, and formulating your own informed argument about it. Your argument will need to be communicated in your academic ‘voice’, which should be distinct from the ‘voices’ of the published experts.
3 things you should know about ‘voice’ in academic writing View
1. It’s your assignment
Although you need to provide evidence to support claims you make in your assignments, your ‘audience’ (the person grading your work) is much more interested in what you think! Therefore, you shouldn't focus on reporting other scholars’ work in your assignments to an extent that your own ideas and arguments are not identifiable.
2. Distinguish between your views and your research
Regardless of the academic writing genre (e.g. essay, report, reflective writing, literature review), written assignments come with the expectation that your ‘voice’ will be clear and discernible from the voices of other authors you might have cited in your assignment.
3. Be confident
What your audience is seeking is writing that confidently addresses the issues raised in the assignment question, with the ‘voices’ of the published experts supporting, not driving your response.
Find your voice by establishing your academic position
In most pieces of writing at university, you will need to present your academic position on a topic or at least indicate your attitude towards what you write about. This might involve agreeing or disagreeing with a statement, offering a recommendation, proposing a possible solution to a problem, or something else. Your academic position should be formed after you have researched the topic. While personal opinions might be based only on one person’s experiences and coloured by emotion, an academic position or justification is logical, rational and supported by evidence. So how does one find one’s voice in academic writing? In short, this happens when you write with the confidence of someone who has researched and thought about their topic thoroughly, and who subsequently knows their topic very well.
Australian Geographic. (2014). Australian endangered species list. http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2014/06/australian-endangered-species-list
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. (2021). EPBC Act List of Threatened Fauna. https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/biodiversity/threatened
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. (n.d.). Listings since commencement of EPBC Act: Threatened species listing. http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-tmp/publiclistchanges.477d60d06dba81732d3e.html
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. (2015). Threatened Species Strategy - Year One Report. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/threatened-species-strategy-year-one-report
Check your understanding View
View the tabs below to analyse an example paragraph, and then compare it to an alternative version.
Look at the example below. The purpose of the paragraph is to introduce the concept of homelessness and lead into a discussion of policy development and service provision. Note how the writer has incorporated materials from three different sources to build a definition of homelessness.
Respond True/False to the following statements with reference to the paragraph above.
Now read the version below. This time we can hear the essay writer’s voice in the way the information is conveyed.
Click on the words, phrases or sentences in the example below that indicate the writer’s attitude.
There are five phrases to find.
After reading the paragraph carefully, answer the question below.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (No. 4922.0). http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4922.0main+features32012
Mission Australia. (2017). What is homelessness? https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do/homelessness-social-housing/what-is-homelessness?
Oxford University Press. (2017) Home. In Oxford Living Dictionary. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/home