Writing in your own voice - anyone got any tips?


I was just wondering if anyone had any tips for how to write in your own voice. I'm dealing with some very complicated political theory at the moment which I feel I understand, but when it comes to writing a synthesis of the literature in my own terms I'm struggling.

I find that I start to rely excessively on the literature I've been reading. Part of the problem I know is because the literature often already explains things very well, and its difficult to re-write in my own words. I then end up writing things in their terms and following their structures rather than my own, ultimately taking me away from the questions I've set myself to answer.

Anyone else suffer from this sort of problem or got any tips for overcoming it?


Hi Thephder,

sometimes it helps if you try to explain the theory to someone who does not know anything about it or to write down the theory just by heart without looking at any text. Later on use the professional text to fine tune it.:-)


I don't want to go all hippy or New World or RHCP but part of the PHd experience is finding your own voice.

Good tips in here already. All I would add is that your voice will come from a bit of distance from your work and redrafting. What I mean is write what you feel is a good piece of work, leave it for a few days, and then revisit it with fresh eyes. As you rework sentences to give your writing a bit of flow you will find that you naturally begin to discover your voice.

This might take 3 weeks or the full 3 years but remember that as you get more confident with the material your own voice will appear.


The distance thing is important. It's important to consume and digest the literature, but regurgitation should be avoided! It's hard though, especially if you've immersed yourself in reading. So allowing time between reading and writing is important.

One thing that I've been trying recently to let go of my perfectionism about writing (which leads to massive blocks to my progress) is to open a blank document and just splurge out what I know on a particular topic. It's for my eyes only, I don't worry about grammatical perfection, colloquialisms, or referencing things. It's just a case of getting the stuff out of my head and on to the page. It then gives me a rough document that I can take from to polish into something more academic and appropriate.

If that doesn't sound appealing, you could literally put things into your own voice by writing a list of questions that you want to address, then answering them out loud as though you were being interviewed about a topic/giving a lecture. Record what you say on a dictaphone and see if what comes out is helpful to your writing.


I'm a big believer in redrafting. Anything I submit to my sup is at least the 3rd draft. By then I feel that I have worked through simple regurgitating of the material and have at least moved from description to evaluation. That's another point - what we're doing is evaluating previous research not simply describing what's out there. I know lit reviews are bringing previous work together but the aim is to do so to substantiate your own argument and find your niche. And to do so you need to evaluate surely?

Anyhow I'm waffling on. Learning to write is a huge part of the process - if not the main one. And writing is not simply typing out words. Give yourself as much time for writing and rewriting as much as reading. Give yourself time to find your voice.


I have found this very interesting reading as I came on tonight to ask teh very same question,

Thephder - I hope you don;t mind me adding in a question - I brain dump into documents, based on ares I know I need to read (e.d. landscape ecology/riperian corridors/ecosystem services) but something I do struggle with besides simply regurgitating other peopls texts is remembering wether what I have written is my original thought or wether i need to reference it and have simply forgotten the author.

I wake in a panic some nights at the thought of plagerism, and in fact I am sure I have deleted several great sentences purely because I can;t remember if I have accidently remembered them from someone elses text. Argh!


Thanks for all your suggestions people - this really is a great little community. And Hiccup, in the nicest possible way its reassuring to hear I'm not the only person stressing over these things!


I usually keep massive amounts of notes compared to anything else I have done. I take hand/typed notes from the source (put the page number in the margins, and quote marks where applicable). Then I summarise the longer string of notes and also do the same for the source. Notes are for a reminder only, they don't have to look sharp or what not, so I don't care if they are somewhat broken thoughts. I usually read them in reverse order (summaries first and up to original source if needed).


Much better day of writing today. Thanks again for all your suggestions. In the end I just put all my notes and books in another room and began redrafting everything I've written so far without them. Each time I was tempted to reach out for notes/books I forced myself not to and that has really helped me get into the writing 'zone'. It's also reassuring to see I do understand the material I'm working with and can explain it without relying on the words of authors x y and z.


Just wanted to update this. I found myself geting very interrupted study the last few weeks with Easter and family visiting plus my daughters nursery was closed for two extra days and in general I feel like I have just read papers, highlighted passages, thought of a tangent, disappeared on that and eventually achieved nothing!


Today I read through what I had written, wrote a list of questions which I wanted to answer, very simply I returned to my research proposal, took my main 'question', and the two minor 'questions' and in each area I had found, eg public participation, climate change, energy use, water abstraction I asked myself how they related to my three questions. Got a surprising amount done and did some decent writeups of two papers too which then gave me high quality material for some lit review editing.

I am still struggling a bit to know which section follows which section as each mini subject seems so inter related but hey this is ok. And had my lunch with some 2nd year PGRs who gave me lots more new ideas *sigh*. But I have a BIG meeting with my supervisor in a week and I haven;t seen him in about a month or more, and then my supervisory team meets at the end of May so I want to get a good handle on what I am doing.


This is very interesting. The "voice" issue has so many dimensions but the key one here I feel I can speak to. Due to an injury, I've had to make adjustments and therefore it has been quite difficult in terms of my Ph.D. but one of the brilliant things is that the voice recognition software, Dragon, has enabled me to continue. You have to talk rather than type, and it does help to rearrange one's thoughts. I refer dictating notes or, may I say, talking to oneself has its good points. Best of luck, pet Dragon (that's my software).


I was going to suggest speaking out the ideas too. Even without dictation software you can record onto a computer with a microphone, or into a voice recorder. Speaking ideas aloud often makes it easier to figure out "your" take on it. And because you are speaking rather than writing it is easier to use your own idioms and expressions, and your own ideas.

I use this technique all the time. I record into my laptop, then play ideas back and type them up. Usually I find I have expressed myself much more clearly than I would when typing directly, and I have come up with ideas I wouldn't otherwise.