What Is Expert Voice?

Posted: May 26th, 2014, 2:16 pm   By: brittany.corners

“We are all experts in our own little niches.”— Who is— Alex Trebek

This week’s topic is expert voice. When you use expert voice, you will sound like you know what you’re talking about—even if you don’t. Awesome, huh?

What Is Expert Voice?

Expert voice is the authoritative tone you use in your writing. It tells readers what to do in no uncertain terms. Writers often avoid expert voice, fearing they will come off sounding pushy or pompous. The result is that they cushion sentences with words that strip their prose of any conviction.

Words That Can Get in the Way of Expert Voice

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Should
  • Would

Although this is the short list of spoiler words, they do serve a purpose when used appropriately and in certain Dr. Suess books. However, much of the time, they turn sought-after guidance into advice for the taking or leaving.

Think about it this way:

  • Does expert Chef Gordon Ramsay tell his chefs they can stir the risotto? No, because that sounds like they have a choice.
  • He tells them to stir the *$#%&@*$ risotto!!! And, they do it.

Or, think about it this way:

Say you’re writing an article about sightseeing in Tokyo, and you know that pigeon poop is a huge problem. Tourists step in it all the time, and you don’t want your audience to endure this. Which of the following sentences is more convincing?

Incorrect: You might watch out for pigeon poop when walking the streets of Tokyo.

Correct: Watch out for pigeon poop when walking the streets of Tokyo.

My reaction as a reader to the first sentence is: meh, I’ll think about it…what are the odds that I’ll actually step in pigeon poop?

My reaction as a reader to the second sentence is: wow, really? There’s pigeon poop everywhere… I better watch where I step!

Equally troublesome to expert voice are spoiler phrases (‘try to.’ ‘you want to,’ etc.). Writing about the perils of being a toy soldier?

Incorrect: Toy soldiers who parade around in public should watch where they’re going.

Correct: Toy soldiers who parade around in public always watch where they’re going to avoid this man’s fate.

When executed properly, expert voice is not condescending; it is convincing.

Tell readers what to do in no uncertain terms, and your expert voice will be heard every time. Now, the expert voices in my head are telling me to wrap this up. I have no choice but to listen.