Voice, Personal Pronouns and Style Concerns and More Joseph M Williams Style: Towards Clarity and Grace (U Chicago 1990 OWL at Purdue Bill Walsh: The Elephants of Style And Grammar Girl!
No one’s personal voice sounds like this:
Utilizing a personal voice is not contingent upon the adoption of the first person point of view in one’s writing, nor is it necessarily to be regarded as synonymous with a writing style that could be termed informal or conversational.
People don’t talk that way, and writers don’t write that way. But inexperienced writers sometimes do.
Using a personal voice certainly does not require using the first person, nor does it mean being informal or conversational .
In spite of the first person point of view—the use of I—there’s nothing “personal” in these lines:
It has long been a tenet of my value system that as a capable individual, I have a social and moral duty to contribute to the improvement of the society in which I live.
A personal voice does not, of course, preclude the use of big words or uncommon words.
We hold these tenets of our value system to be self-evident.
We hold these truths to be self-evident .
Your Personal Voice
Does the language I’m
using sound natural, like
something I’d really say?
Using a personal voice certainly does not require using the first person, nor does it mean being informal or conversational.
Rather, “personal” in this sense means “natural,” language that a real person would use.
When one sees the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, the sight is simply breathtaking.
The problem that one creates is obvious to the ear: The sentence sounds formal and British, like something Prince Charles would say. In American-English, we use you to convey the third-person indefinite sense. You is technically the second person, but the meaning is closer to the indefinite third-person one .
When you see the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time…
Most of the rooms were evidently used for storage of anthropological items, collected from decades to more than a century ago. You had the sense of a museum of the second order, in which were stored not so much materials that might be of interest as materials that had once been of interest. You could feel the presence of nineteenth-century museum directors engaged in their frock coats….
Brocas’s Brain by Carl Sagan
In another passage from A Brief History of Time , Hawking uses mainly the second person, but in one sentence he switches to the first with we and our:
Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory….Each time new experiments are observed to agree with the predictions the theory survives, and our confidence it is increased; but if ever a new observation is found to disagree, we have to abandon or modify the theory. At least that is what is supposed to happen, but you can always question the competence of the person who carried out the observation.
The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh
Today, we have computers and italics. Underlining is to typed and handwritten papers what italics are to more formal publishing.
Wrong: Bill Walsh runs a website called TheSlot.com.
Right: Bill Walsh runs a website called The Slot (www.theslot.com).
Lies your English teacher told you:
Never split an infinitive.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Never use the passive voice.
Never write in the first person.
Never address the reader directly.
The personal pronoun: If I say each authority has his opinion, I am excluding Barbara Wallraff and so on. Each authority has her opinion sounds patronizing.
Each authority has their opinion, which applies a plural pronoun to a singular antecedent will have many people reaching for the dunce cap, but it is the best of the imperfect solutions and most likely, will eventually become standard.