The voice that students consider their "real voice," the voice that emerges when first they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is the least individualistic of their voices, is the voice that least reflects who they are. We hear instead the generic, homogenized voice of clichés, of advertising, or popular culture. It is a voice without color or tone. Thus the voice that is "born" needs something else to jolt it into life and resonance, so that it can reflect the individual student in all the writer's glorious tones and colors. Unattended to, it is often interchangeable with the next student's voice. (O'Leary 2)
Randall Albers best defined the most probable causes for why a paper doesn't have voice and what happens as a result in his essay "No More Lip Service." Lip service, the term he uses to define a lack voice in a paper, is caused by: attitudes and beliefs, theories guiding classroom practices, and classroom practices themselves -- which he designates as the terms political, theoretical, and pedagogical.
The first category, political, is based on conscious or unconscious cultural, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic biases. Albers said, "As much as teachers would like to affirm both the value of cultural diversity and the uniqueness of each individual in their classroom, they are often under incredible pressure to assert the need for assimilation and for conformity to prestige values and standards. They push for a truly 'American' national language or cultural literacy." (Albers 6)
The theoretical guidelines drive students to achieve organization and an academic voice. Writing instructors, in one school, let alone the United States, disagree and are confused over the nature and function of voice, Albers said. The ongoing debate forces teachers to ignore the voice issue while the five paragraph essay and academic tone students use hastily live on. Consequently, student writing lacks a voice. As Peter Elbow said, "Writing with no voice is dead, mechanical, faceless, without sound. It may be logically organized; it may even be a work of genius. But, it is as though the words came out of a mixer rather than a person." (Elbow 287) Along with organization, the student takes on a fake academic voice the teacher has suggested will earn them an A+. "Uncertain in their new position, eager to please, many students seem to lose their voices entirely as they parrot or mimic the sounds of the academy." (O'Leary 3) Because they stop so often in mid-sentence and ponder, worry or change their minds about which word to use or which direction to go in, their writing lacks voice. (Elbow 4) Ken Macrorie found "students wrote with one purpose: to give me what they thought I wanted. In the end, students tried to sound scholarly and profound." (Macrorie 7)
Third, when teacher offer definitions of what is voice, to translate theory into practice, students have a hard time applying the concept to their papers. Left to their pages of spiral notebook notes, students don't have example practice time to play with voice. Their voice, once again, becomes concealed. No time for exploration away from the graded essay leaves students worlds away from empowerment. Practice time will help writers to hear what's important in sentences. As Dona Hickey said,
When we listen to someone talking, we pay attention to where their voice rises, where the stress falls most heavily and where the pauses are. This music and rhythm helps us to follow and remember. The music of speech is the pattern of pitch changes: down up/down up. Rhythm concerns stress (soft/loud) and length --duration (short/long). When we read, we need similar sound cues -- cues provided by the writer's sentence patterns and punctuation. (Hickey 13)
Overall, students need to prod and probe their voice, allowing it to answer as authentically as possible the question: Where Have I Been? (O'Leary 3) The Ab Fab women would tell you to scan your closet and liquor cabinet for such an answer.
what two of the UR Writing Fellows and Tutors usually find problematic with an author's voice
when a paper has a voice