How a lack of authorial voice can lead to journal rejection | Lex Academic Blog

For something that is deemed so essential to getting published, definitions of authorial voice can be frustratingly vague. At its most basic level, however, an ‘academic’ or ‘authorial voice’ is the means by which a writer distinguishes their thoughts from those of other authors. It demonstrates, in other words, that you have your own unique take on a subject, which you can then use to create a successful and persuasive argument. It represents, moreover, one of the key facets of building a strong scholarly identity. Developing a compelling authorial voice can nevertheless present particular challenges within academic writing, in which objectivity of tone is privileged, and reliance on the first person is often scorned.

This all matters because appearing to lack a convincing authorial voice suggests, however unfairly, that you also lack originality and ownership over the ideas that you are expressing. This, in turn, can be a fast-track to rejection when it comes to trying to get published. On the other hand, excessive reliance on personal opinions and reflection can indicate an absence of scholarly rigour and an inappropriate level of self-absorption. The key issue, then, is to strike a balance between cautious, hedging language, and a more assertive, confident tone. This includes learning how to acknowledge pre-existing authors without letting their voices and arguments drown out your own; a trap into which many novice writers fall. The problem is compounded for non-native English speakers, who can struggle to achieve the right register in their academic writing, and who may be uncertain as to whether they are meeting the expectations of English-language journals and publishers.

How, then, should one go about crafting the ideal authorial voice? An excellent place to start is by reading material that you admire by writers within your field, and analysing how they structure their work and moderate their tone to create a persuasive piece of copy. There is also, of course, no substitute for practice, or for collegial or professional feedback, so the more you write, the more adept you should become. This should help you to identify the types of rhetorical situations in which (temporarily) assuming a first-person perspective can strengthen your case, and to interweave the opinions of other authors into your text, so that all relevant views are represented and evaluated without burying your own voice and contribution. It can be helpful, in addition, to focus on clarity rather than complexity. There can be a temptation in academic writing to demonstrate one’s mastery of a particular topic by relying on ‘wordy’ language when discussing concepts that are already abstruse in and of themselves. Focusing on presenting your arguments and evidence as clearly as possible can, however, be a far more fruitful approach in developing your voice as an author.

If you are in any doubt as to whether your academic writing is working as hard for you as it should, and would appreciate a professional assessment of your style and tone, we are always here to help.