Authoritative Voice: How to Write Like You Mean It

If you’re a rooster and you consider yourself king of the hen house, you can’t just casually wander around with the rest of the chickens.

You need to strut your stuff. You need to walk with authority and crow like you mean it!

Likewise, if you’re writing a paper, you might consider yourself king (or queen) of the written word. As king or queen, you can’t type just anything and hope it sounds okay.

Instead, you need to turn a phrase. You need to present perfectly polished prose. You need to write with authority and demonstrate to your readers that you know what you’re talking about.

If you feel like writing royalty but aren’t quite sure how to present yourself as an authority on the subject, check out these tips to help you develop your authoritative voice.

Authoritative Voice: What on Earth Does That Mean?

When you think authority, you might think of someone who is confident, large and in charge, and maybe even a little bossy—you know, like that rooster in the barnyard.

Writing in an authoritative voice, though, doesn’t mean that you’re bossy, rude, or condescending.

It means that you’re confident and knowledgeable about your subject. It also means that you can convey that confidence in your writing style.

To do that, you need to choose your words wisely and show readers you know your stuff.

You also need to establish your authority early in your paper. Start strong with a good hook and well-written thesis statement that directly states the focus of your paper.

If you establish yourself as credible early in your paper, readers are not only more likely to keep reading, but also more likely to actually believe what you have to say.

Use Qualifiers Wisely

authoritative voice

Qualifiers are words that somehow modify or limit other words or phrases. Here are a few examples of qualifiers:

  • Hardly
  • Could
  • Seldom
  • Probably
  • Likely
  • Frequently
  • Doubtful
  • May

Qualifiers can be important in academic writing to clarify between absolute claims or claims that have limits. If they’re used ineffectively, though, qualifiers create a sense of uncertainty in your writing.

Necessary qualifiers

Necessary qualifiers are used in academic writing to clarify claims. They can be particularly important if you’re describing the limits of your own scientific research.

Here’s a quick example:

If you find four chickens dead in the hen house, you might write, “The chickens were killed by a fox.” This is an absolute phrase. You’re stating a fact: the chickens were killed by a fox.

But what if you’re not exactly sure how the chickens died? What if you’re making an educated guess? Then you need to qualify your statement. To do this, you might write, “The chickens were likely killed by a fox.” Or you might say, “The chickens may have been killed by a fox.”

The phrases “were likely” and “may have been” qualify your statement as you’re not stating an absolute fact.

Unnecessary qualifiers

Unnecessary qualifiers are those qualifiers that only weaken your writing and make it less authoritative.

Here’s an example:

If you’re watching a group of chickens in the yard and you state, “I think chickens are social and have a pecking order,” the phrase “I think” is a qualifier. It weakens the statement because it sounds as if you’re not quite sure whether a pecking order actually exists.

The qualifier in this example sentence is unnecessary because it’s a fact that there is a social pecking order among chickens.

To revise, eliminate first person point of view and state the fact without any qualifiers: “Chickens are social and have a pecking order.” This creates a confident and authoritative voice.

It’s also more persuasive if you’re, say, writing an argumentative essay or a persuasive essay.

Bring in the Experts to Demonstrate Your Own Expertise

authoritative voice

If you want readers to know you’re a credible and authoritative writer, you need to illustrate your knowledge of the subject. Part of this process involves demonstrating that you have done your research.

You may not think that presenting the thoughts and research of someone else would actually increase your credibility, but it does. Think about all those scholarly articles you read when you’re researching a topic. How many sources do they cite?

Why cite so many other experts? Because citing other experts demonstrates not only that you’ve read about and fully understand the topic, but also that others agree with and support your argument.

Consider this example:

If you want to start raising chickens so that you always have a fresh supply of eggs, you might wonder how many chickens you need. Let’s say the two online articles you read both state you need anywhere from two to four chickens.

This sounds reasonable enough, but how do you know whether that’s a good number? What credibility do these writers have? After all, you’re just reading random online articles.

Let’s say you then read a professionally written article from a poultry magazine in which a highly credentialed author (who also cites other experts) states that you need no fewer than six chickens.

Which article are you more likely to believe? You’d choose the article written by someone who is credible and writes with authority, right?

Why? Because the writer is authoritative and uses evidence and expertise to support her arguments.

You want to be that writer. You want readers to read your essay and believe what you have to say. Thus, in order establish credibility, use your authoritative voice and support what you have to say with credible evidence.

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Writing Style

Developing an authoritative voice is not only saying what you mean, but also saying it with style.

There are all sorts of ways to improve your style, such as adding content over useless fluff (fluff only adds length, not content, to your writing), eliminating wordiness, and choosing the right words (over words that simply sound smart).

You might also read 15 Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing to learn even more ways to improve your writing style.

authoritative voice

Mastering all of these style tips will certainly improve your writing, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in authoritative writing, write in active voice (rather than passive voice).

Active voice essentially means that the subject of the sentence is completing the action.

Check out this quick example:

Active voice: The chickens laid six eggs.

Passive voice: Six eggs were laid by the chickens.

It’s pretty easy to see the difference in this simple sentence. In the first sentence (active voice), the chickens are the subjects completing the action of laying eggs. In the second sentence (passive voice), the objects being acted upon (six eggs) become the subject.

See? Isn’t active voice less confusing and a lot more direct? By the way, more direct also equates to authority. This is where the phrase “write like you mean it” comes into play. Active voice is bold, direct, and authoritative.

Of course, there are occasions where passive voice can be useful and is actually preferred, but in most cases, stick with active voice.

One final word about style: Don’t forget that proper grammar increases your credibility too, so make sure to revise and proofread before submitting your paper.

I Have It on Good Authority

authoritative voice

In order to write with an authoritative voice, you need to practice your writing skills. One form of practice doesn’t involve writing at all. It involves reading.

By reading other people’s writing, you can review and evaluate how they use language, whether they’ve included unnecessary qualifiers, and whether they’ve used an authoritative voice and demonstrate credibility.

If you’re able to recognize these elements in the writing of others, you’re better able to use (or avoid) specific elements in your own writing.

If you want to try this strategy, you can practice by reading these two papers:

Already have a completed paper but not sure you’re crowing loudly and confidently enough to get the attention of the entire barnyard? Worried that you’re loud, but perhaps not yet authoritative? Let the experts at Kibin help.

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