July 16, 2023

How to describe your writing voice for AI tools: Tips from a professional ghostwriter

There is a ton of potential in AI text-generation tools like ChatGPT, as long as you can tell it how to write. And to do that, you need to know what it is that makes your own voice unique. 
July 16, 2023

How to describe your writing voice for AI tools: Tips from a professional ghostwriter

There is a ton of potential in AI text-generation tools like ChatGPT, as long as you can tell it how to write. And to do that, you need to know what it is that makes your own voice unique. 
July 16, 2023
Briana Brownell
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If you’re like a lot of people, your first attempt using an AI writing tool like ChatGPT was underwhelming. It probably wrote about what you told it to write about, but it didn’t sound good. The voice was generic, dry, or maybe even overly peppy. The experience may have even convinced you that the tool was no good.

But I’d advise you not to give up yet. There is a ton of potential in AI text-generation tools like ChatGPT, as long as you can tell it how to write. And to do that, you need to know what it is that makes your own voice unique. 

Professional ghostwriter Jessa Gamble knows just how to figure that out. After all, it’s her job to closely match the voice and tone of the clients she works with. She uses a deliberate process when contemplating the client's distinct voice so she can capture that voice on the page.

So I turned to her to figure out how to use AI tools to help you work through the process yourself.

How a ghostwriter describes her client’s voice

Jessa says that people often hire ghostwriters not because of their inability to write, but because the writing process itself is daunting. "They just can't sit alone with a screen and write," she says. Ghostwriting becomes a way to get their ideas out there. It helps people express themselves when they might otherwise face challenges, whether due to time constraints, language barriers, or lack of formal writing training.

Jessa's process involves internalizing the voice of her clients, typically through a series of recorded conversations. In these conversations, she interviews the client not only about the topic of the book, but about their outlook and perspective in general. She then works to determine what makes that person's voice unique. "I sit there and listen to the conversation and I pause it and I type out every word. I'm internalizing the voice that way."

Try recording yourself in conversation with a friend, or if you're aiming for a more formal style, pay attention to how you communicate in a meeting or during a presentation. Notice when your statements have qualities that you like — and which ones you're not particularly fond of.

Jess emphasizes that you shouldn’t try to copy someone else's voice but instead hone in on your own. Authenticity in communication is, after all, always the best plan. "There is something really special about writing. It can be a cavalier thing to give up that special expression."

4 elements to describing your own voice

Most of us haven't given our own voice much thought — we know whether a piece of writing does or doesn't sound like us, but that's it. Ghostwriting means building up your ability to discern a piece of writing so that you know why something does or doesn't sound like you.

Fortunately, AI tools can help on that front. We tested them out on a sample of Jessa's ghostwriting for a Texas-based private equity investor. Here's what we found.

image

1. Vocabulary

Your vocabulary, including the complexity and descriptiveness of the words you choose, is instrumental in characterizing your voice. It also carries cultural context, communicating where you’re from, how old you are, and, for future readers, what era you live in. In Jessa's case with the Texan investor, it meant including specific words, turns of phrase and expressions that he regularly uses. "He just wants to recognize himself in the wording," Jessa explains. 

Jessa also explicitly considers the education level of the target audience to determine how advanced the vocabulary should be. "Other than the fact that it's talking about, you know, mergers and acquisitions and things that a middle schooler wouldn't understand, it rarely gets above the grade nine level, except domain-specific vocabulary."

She also notes the balance needed between using enough jargon to convey your expertise and not overwhelming or excluding your audience. "It needs to not be overly intellectual because he's speaking to people often in rural industrial businesses." 

Think about whether your audience is knowledgeable enough in the subject to understand the terms you're using. What to consider when you’re assessing your vocabulary:

  • How educated is your audience? What grade level do you write for? 
  • Is your language filled with technical jargon or is it accessible and non-technical? 
  • Are there any specific regional variations you want to capture?
  • Are the words you choose descriptive or concise?
  • Is there a rich variety of vocabulary or is the writing simple with few unique words?

ChatGPT's description of the vocabulary from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The vocabulary used in this text is accessible and non-technical, but insightful. It uses words and phrases familiar to a general audience, while still delving into complex topics. The language is aimed at conveying wisdom and experience in an understandable and relatable way."

2. Sentence structure

Sentence structure, including things like length and complexity, is another element you need to define to capture the essence of your voice. 

For Jessa's client, describing the sentence structure played a pivotal role in capturing his voice. "[He uses] shorter sentences. It's a direct address. There's a lot of second person." 

Consider whether your writing is laden with dense, intricate sentences or whether it features succinct, punchy statements. 

The end medium will also influence what sentence structure is appropriate. For instance, a magazine article might have longer, complex sentences; a social media post typically has shorter, punchier sentence fragments; and a script typically has simple grammar and short sentences.

The perspective of the writing is also important to nail down — do you use a lot of “I” or “you” statements, or do you write in a more third-person style?

That perspective can influence the tone of the writing, as it did for Jessa’s client — second person is a more casual, conversational style that makes the author seem down to earth. "[He wants] to be "one of us' so that there can be no mistaking him for somebody who went to an Ivy League school."

What to consider:

  • How long and complex are the sentences?
  • How varied is the sentence structure?
  • Are the sentences complete or are there sentence fragments?
  • What perspective is the writing from: first person (I), second person (you), third person (he/she/they)?

ChatGPT's description of the sentence structure from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The sentence structure ranges from shorter, more emphatic statements to longer, complex sentences that elaborate on ideas and provide context. The author frequently uses the rhetorical device of antithesis to emphasize contrasts in perceptions or outcomes."

3. Tone

You can think of the tone in your writing to be like the inflection in your voice when you speak — it sets the overall mood and guides your reader's understanding of your message. It's important to consider because your writing's tone subtly conveys a broad spectrum of emotions and attitudes. 

The tone was a vital part of the voice for Jessa's client, and it helped build the distinctive style of the writing. "He was the straight-talking guy who would give you the real goods." 

You might have an informal and conversational tone or a more formal and objective one. Humor might play a role, or you may opt for a more neutral presentation of information.

Jessa emphasizes that it's important also to think about what your writing is not. "Private equity people typically are elite-educated people who came from investment banks, and that's not his background, and he wants to make use of that unique voice. It's got to come through in the writing."

What to think about:

  • Are you aiming to inspire, educate, entertain, or persuade?
  • Is using humor appropriate for your audience?
  • Do you want to provide objective information or subjective opinion?

ChatGPT's description of the tone from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The tone is informal, conversational, and assertive, offering guidance from a seemingly experienced perspective. It's didactic and authoritative, but not condescending, and it aims to empower the reader."

4. Distinctive characteristics

Beyond the three basics, consider whether there are additional distinctive characteristics of your voice that you want to convey in your writing. Your use of examples, repetition, contrasts, idioms, and metaphors all become distinctive features of your voice.

Yes, this might sound like you’re back in English class, but it’s important. Even if the specific devices you use change from piece to piece (which they probably do), the themes they cover are incredibly revealing. For Jessa's client, the way his examples and analogies always went back to emotion and personal stories was the heart of the appeal and what differentiated him from other people in his field. "The rest of the conference would be a bunch of eggheads talking about Excel. But that wasn't him. He was talking about feelings and family, and your stakeholders you really care about."

This element of writing casts a wide net (an idiom!), and some characteristics in this category you may not even realize are part of your repertoire. When in doubt, you can always ask ChatGPT to describe any unique characteristics of your writing.

What to think about:

  • What makes the way you talk about the subject matter different from other writers?
  • Do you have a specific perspective you want to convey?
  • Are there rhetorical devices you use?
  • Do you use figurative language or analogies?

ChatGPT's description of the distinctive characteristics of the voice of Jessa’s writing sample:

"Emotional Appeal: There's an element of emotional appeal throughout the text, acknowledging the reader's personal feelings and passions, and validating these as crucial to business decision-making. The reader is reassured that their values are significant and should be considered in their business choices."

ChatGPT prompt to analyze your voice

Write a series of descriptors that describe the vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, and any other distinctive characteristics of the following text:

[insert text]

Conclusion

You don't have to have a decade of ghostwriting experience to get AI tools to mimic your voice. When I tried getting ChatGPT to help me describe my own writing, it taught me a lot I didn’t realize about how I communicate. And even better, I found that being explicit and deliberative about my style helped me write and edit more effectively too.

Briana Brownell
Briana Brownell is a Canadian data scientist and multidisciplinary creator who writes about the intersection of technology and creativity.
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How to describe your writing voice for AI tools: Tips from a professional ghostwriter

If you’re like a lot of people, your first attempt using an AI writing tool like ChatGPT was underwhelming. It probably wrote about what you told it to write about, but it didn’t sound good. The voice was generic, dry, or maybe even overly peppy. The experience may have even convinced you that the tool was no good.

But I’d advise you not to give up yet. There is a ton of potential in AI text-generation tools like ChatGPT, as long as you can tell it how to write. And to do that, you need to know what it is that makes your own voice unique. 

Professional ghostwriter Jessa Gamble knows just how to figure that out. After all, it’s her job to closely match the voice and tone of the clients she works with. She uses a deliberate process when contemplating the client's distinct voice so she can capture that voice on the page.

So I turned to her to figure out how to use AI tools to help you work through the process yourself.

How a ghostwriter describes her client’s voice

Jessa says that people often hire ghostwriters not because of their inability to write, but because the writing process itself is daunting. "They just can't sit alone with a screen and write," she says. Ghostwriting becomes a way to get their ideas out there. It helps people express themselves when they might otherwise face challenges, whether due to time constraints, language barriers, or lack of formal writing training.

Jessa's process involves internalizing the voice of her clients, typically through a series of recorded conversations. In these conversations, she interviews the client not only about the topic of the book, but about their outlook and perspective in general. She then works to determine what makes that person's voice unique. "I sit there and listen to the conversation and I pause it and I type out every word. I'm internalizing the voice that way."

Try recording yourself in conversation with a friend, or if you're aiming for a more formal style, pay attention to how you communicate in a meeting or during a presentation. Notice when your statements have qualities that you like — and which ones you're not particularly fond of.

Jess emphasizes that you shouldn’t try to copy someone else's voice but instead hone in on your own. Authenticity in communication is, after all, always the best plan. "There is something really special about writing. It can be a cavalier thing to give up that special expression."

4 elements to describing your own voice

Most of us haven't given our own voice much thought — we know whether a piece of writing does or doesn't sound like us, but that's it. Ghostwriting means building up your ability to discern a piece of writing so that you know why something does or doesn't sound like you.

Fortunately, AI tools can help on that front. We tested them out on a sample of Jessa's ghostwriting for a Texas-based private equity investor. Here's what we found.

image

1. Vocabulary

Your vocabulary, including the complexity and descriptiveness of the words you choose, is instrumental in characterizing your voice. It also carries cultural context, communicating where you’re from, how old you are, and, for future readers, what era you live in. In Jessa's case with the Texan investor, it meant including specific words, turns of phrase and expressions that he regularly uses. "He just wants to recognize himself in the wording," Jessa explains. 

Jessa also explicitly considers the education level of the target audience to determine how advanced the vocabulary should be. "Other than the fact that it's talking about, you know, mergers and acquisitions and things that a middle schooler wouldn't understand, it rarely gets above the grade nine level, except domain-specific vocabulary."

She also notes the balance needed between using enough jargon to convey your expertise and not overwhelming or excluding your audience. "It needs to not be overly intellectual because he's speaking to people often in rural industrial businesses." 

Think about whether your audience is knowledgeable enough in the subject to understand the terms you're using. What to consider when you’re assessing your vocabulary:

  • How educated is your audience? What grade level do you write for? 
  • Is your language filled with technical jargon or is it accessible and non-technical? 
  • Are there any specific regional variations you want to capture?
  • Are the words you choose descriptive or concise?
  • Is there a rich variety of vocabulary or is the writing simple with few unique words?

ChatGPT's description of the vocabulary from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The vocabulary used in this text is accessible and non-technical, but insightful. It uses words and phrases familiar to a general audience, while still delving into complex topics. The language is aimed at conveying wisdom and experience in an understandable and relatable way."

2. Sentence structure

Sentence structure, including things like length and complexity, is another element you need to define to capture the essence of your voice. 

For Jessa's client, describing the sentence structure played a pivotal role in capturing his voice. "[He uses] shorter sentences. It's a direct address. There's a lot of second person." 

Consider whether your writing is laden with dense, intricate sentences or whether it features succinct, punchy statements. 

The end medium will also influence what sentence structure is appropriate. For instance, a magazine article might have longer, complex sentences; a social media post typically has shorter, punchier sentence fragments; and a script typically has simple grammar and short sentences.

The perspective of the writing is also important to nail down — do you use a lot of “I” or “you” statements, or do you write in a more third-person style?

That perspective can influence the tone of the writing, as it did for Jessa’s client — second person is a more casual, conversational style that makes the author seem down to earth. "[He wants] to be "one of us' so that there can be no mistaking him for somebody who went to an Ivy League school."

What to consider:

  • How long and complex are the sentences?
  • How varied is the sentence structure?
  • Are the sentences complete or are there sentence fragments?
  • What perspective is the writing from: first person (I), second person (you), third person (he/she/they)?

ChatGPT's description of the sentence structure from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The sentence structure ranges from shorter, more emphatic statements to longer, complex sentences that elaborate on ideas and provide context. The author frequently uses the rhetorical device of antithesis to emphasize contrasts in perceptions or outcomes."

3. Tone

You can think of the tone in your writing to be like the inflection in your voice when you speak — it sets the overall mood and guides your reader's understanding of your message. It's important to consider because your writing's tone subtly conveys a broad spectrum of emotions and attitudes. 

The tone was a vital part of the voice for Jessa's client, and it helped build the distinctive style of the writing. "He was the straight-talking guy who would give you the real goods." 

You might have an informal and conversational tone or a more formal and objective one. Humor might play a role, or you may opt for a more neutral presentation of information.

Jessa emphasizes that it's important also to think about what your writing is not. "Private equity people typically are elite-educated people who came from investment banks, and that's not his background, and he wants to make use of that unique voice. It's got to come through in the writing."

What to think about:

  • Are you aiming to inspire, educate, entertain, or persuade?
  • Is using humor appropriate for your audience?
  • Do you want to provide objective information or subjective opinion?

ChatGPT's description of the tone from Jessa’s writing sample:

"The tone is informal, conversational, and assertive, offering guidance from a seemingly experienced perspective. It's didactic and authoritative, but not condescending, and it aims to empower the reader."

4. Distinctive characteristics

Beyond the three basics, consider whether there are additional distinctive characteristics of your voice that you want to convey in your writing. Your use of examples, repetition, contrasts, idioms, and metaphors all become distinctive features of your voice.

Yes, this might sound like you’re back in English class, but it’s important. Even if the specific devices you use change from piece to piece (which they probably do), the themes they cover are incredibly revealing. For Jessa's client, the way his examples and analogies always went back to emotion and personal stories was the heart of the appeal and what differentiated him from other people in his field. "The rest of the conference would be a bunch of eggheads talking about Excel. But that wasn't him. He was talking about feelings and family, and your stakeholders you really care about."

This element of writing casts a wide net (an idiom!), and some characteristics in this category you may not even realize are part of your repertoire. When in doubt, you can always ask ChatGPT to describe any unique characteristics of your writing.

What to think about:

  • What makes the way you talk about the subject matter different from other writers?
  • Do you have a specific perspective you want to convey?
  • Are there rhetorical devices you use?
  • Do you use figurative language or analogies?

ChatGPT's description of the distinctive characteristics of the voice of Jessa’s writing sample:

"Emotional Appeal: There's an element of emotional appeal throughout the text, acknowledging the reader's personal feelings and passions, and validating these as crucial to business decision-making. The reader is reassured that their values are significant and should be considered in their business choices."

ChatGPT prompt to analyze your voice

Write a series of descriptors that describe the vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, and any other distinctive characteristics of the following text:

[insert text]

Conclusion

You don't have to have a decade of ghostwriting experience to get AI tools to mimic your voice. When I tried getting ChatGPT to help me describe my own writing, it taught me a lot I didn’t realize about how I communicate. And even better, I found that being explicit and deliberative about my style helped me write and edit more effectively too.

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