Four Steps to Finding Your Own Voice

1. Overt

One method is by explicitly writing yourself into your own essays. For example:

  • 'I will argue that …'
  • 'In this essay I argue that... '
  • 'From our investigations we conclude that …'

By drawing such a clear distinction between your voice and the voice of your sources, the marker is more able to 'hear' what you are trying to say.

WARNING: Some disciplines and schools don't allow their students to use 'I' in their written assignments. Check with your lecturers and tutors before you adopt this strategy.

2. 'Original' research

The content of lectures and weekly readings can only ever give you the basics: you are expected to go beyond the material presented in class when you are producing a research-based assignment. Some students never go beyond lecture material and/or the set readings when doing research.

But by branching out on your own, by reading more widely you'll have many more ideas to draw from. By broadening your research you'll be able to include ideas and information not discovered by others who've not read as widely as you have. This will allow you to construct a different argument from other students and, in turn, this research will give your argument a more individual quality.

3. Organisation

The way you put your essays together may give them a distinctive quality. Although you must always engage with and answer the question, and the question will always place limits on your essay, the question itself does not dictate the structure of your essay. It does not give you the 'correct' sequence of paragraphs: the order of the paragraphs is your choice.

Impose your framework over the question, and don't let your sources dictate the structure of your essay either.

4. Integration: choosing the right words

What transition signals and reporting verbs (states, argues, asserts, writes etc.) do you use to show your relationship to the ideas expressed by other writers? By carefully selecting your reporting verbs you can use the words/ideas of others and your own considered opinion of their view.

A hypothetical

The direct quote you wish to use is 'The sky is red' (Evans, 2001:8).

How can you integrate it with your own prose and, simultaneously, demonstrate your own view?

Some examples

Evans states that 'the sky is red' (2001:8)'states' indicates that you have a largely neutral stance toward the idea expressed.
Evans argues that 'the sky is red' (Evans, 2001:8)'argues' indicates that you think that Evans supports his opinion with argument & evidence.
Evans asserts that 'the sky is red' (Evans, 2001:8)asserts' indicates that you think that Evans does not fully support his idea
Evans claims that 'the sky is red' (Evans, 2001:8)'claims' indicates that you think that Evans does not support his idea at all
Evans rightly argues that 'the sky is red' (2001:8)'rightly argues' indicates that you agree strongly with the view
Evans wrongly argues that 'the sky is red' (2001:8)'wrongly argues' indicates that you disagree with conclusion that Evans has drawn
Evans is partially correct when he argues that 'the sky is red' (200 1: 8)'partially correct' suggests that you agree with some, but not all, of Evans' view