February 13, 2020 by Ronn
"...what really makes an outlet stand out, especially now in 2020, is being able to establish all your writers as distinct voices—people that readers will want to come back to read whatever they write. That's kind of one of my big focuses and goals—to make sure that our writers become [that] voice, and folks will want to read their latest stuff."
—Mike Andronico, editor in chief of Tom's Guide for Future plc
How much personality and "voice" should writers for niche publishers put in their articles? The answers are certainly going to vary by the type of article and the writer, but in a discussion yesterday, we did flesh out a few guiding perspectives.
I asked Sherri L. Smith, editor in chief for Future's Laptop Magazine, how she handles that.
"I've always written that way [inserting her personality]. I just need to put a little bit of me into it. What I'm writing, especially for Laptop Mag, I like to think that I'm writing for my mother and my grandmother. And the easier it is to read, the easier it is to understand and the less tech support that I have to do. It hasn't worked yet. I still have to do tech support every time I go home. But that is the overarching goal of the copy.
"But putting a little bit of personality into your copy helps in the long run. Who wants to read a boring review? You can do that on Amazon—oh, here are the specs, this is what it's supposed to do. People want to know how the lived-in experience is. Tech, in a lot of ways as in tech reviewing, is an aspirational thing. Like Laptop and Tom's Guide [another tech website there], we definitely do a lot of testing.
"[While] a lot of people don't understand what [some techy terms] mean, what they do understand is, 'I did all this multi-tasking, and the machine was still chugging along and I didn't experience any slowdown. [But] it did get hot when I put it on my lap.' Or in a game it didn't stutter. Those are things that people understand, rather than okay, it transcoded this in two minutes. What does that mean to anyone but people who are well-versed in the industry?"
Greg Friese, editorial director for Lexipol, said that he often has to "remove some of the personality" of his writers because many are cops, firefighters and paramedics, and not actual writers. "Depending on the topic, a conversational tone may or may not work," he said. "Some of their regionalisms and things that might be appropriate for the fire station might not work in an article for the world to see.
"We're trying to show our writers that we're giving them a pretty big platform and as such they might have to be a bit more formal than they think."
Allowing writers to inject more personality could also help them become more of a personality for your audience—and that could lead to valuable speaking or moderating assignments at events and webinars.
The tone of an article is a difficult decision sometimes. I often inject one of my theater, film or sports references to play off of. But then sometimes I'll go back after I finish writing a piece and cross out that "personality" lead because I'd just rather get straight to the point. Or put in what I think is a great quote as I did today. So it is definitely a balancing act.
"I actively encourage writers to, not only write in their own voice, but write about the things they're passionate about, as long as it's in our wheelhouse and has potential," said Andronico. "In fact, I kind of have a reputation if I overhear someone talking about, like something that happened with tech in their personal life, I'll say, 'Oh sounds like a story, you should write that up. Sounds like you just volunteered yourself.' If you actively encourage your writers to write about their personal lives, write in their own style, their own voice...
"Our editor just did a great piece about getting the Apple Watch for the first time, his first few months with it, how it kind of changed his life, his fitness routine and all that. There are so many other great examples of that where we're writing about the products and the topics that we normally cover but from a much more personal angle which I think people connect with.
I really like when we're able to just write like everyday people," Andronico continued. "As Sherri said, write things that your mom can relate to, your grandmother can relate to. So I always actively encourage that type of content. I actually make sure that we have a steady flow of it in fact because I think it's one of those things that makes us stand out."
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…