Finding the Narrative Voice

When it comes to teaching, individual narrative voice is one of the most important. What is the individual narrative voice? Narrative voice is simply your communicative style used when writing something as simple as a diary entry, a note to yourself, or an academic assignment. In other words, it’s our unique and natural style that comes through in our own writing. The issue is, how exactly do we, as writers, students, and teachers, find out narrative voice?

Activities such as freewriting, journaling, and other reflective exercises are ways to find the narrative voice and it’s in these activities where our own dialects, styles of writing, and academia can combine to form our narrative voice. In other words, this is where code meshing comes into play in the academic world and allows for new ways of vocalizing and analyzing academic articles. (Mari does an excellent job discussing code meshing in her blog post).

Colorful pens and paper

In addition to the narrative voice being a writing style, it is also considered an identity. According to Naming What We Know, “identities are complex expressions and embodiments of who someone is.” To push that thought even further, Kevin Roozen, states that writing “is about becoming a particular kind of person, about developing a sense of who we are.” In other words, and as supported by James Berlin, it’s our way to explore ourselves because “authentic self-expression can thus lead to authentic self-experience for both the writer and the reader.” Therefore, we find ourselves in the writing and that is where we find our written identity.

Pretty interesting, right?

How Does This Work in Academia?

When writing essays, it’s imperative that our own perspectives, ideas, and ideologies come out to show how we connect to the work we interact with. From a student’s perspective, it’s how we articulate our ideas and connections, which is influenced greatly by many factors in our personal lives, and then further use our narrative style to connect with our audience.

From an educators standpoint, it’s us asking our students questions to encourage deeper connections. For instance. Nancy Sommers, author of I Stand Here Writing, states that she wants her student to know that “being academic does not mean being remote, distant, imponderable.” She wants her students to interact with the work and question how things work in the context provided and beyond that. She wants students to take a closer look into the work and see personal connections and similarities even if they’re minor connections. Further, the narrative and personal connections she wants her students to make and understand should be “their judgements and interpretation” as well as them “learning that they never have to leave themselves behind even when” when writing for the classroom.

Five Canon of Rhetoric Chart from

For Sommers, the narrative voice is how students “talk back to other writers,” which is something many authors agree with and articulate when discussing narrative voice and style. For others, it may be the use of the five canons of rhetoric: “invention, memory, arrangement, style, and delivery” as notated by Katheleen Blake Yancey. It’s in these five canons where an effective narrative/message can be drafted and shared in the academic world and beyond.

Narrative Voice. Check. What’s Next?

Okay, so, let’s say your narrative voice is no longer muted by the information you’re sharing. What’s next? Next is understanding the concept of rhetoric and ideologies that are in not only the work you’re interacting with, but your work as well. Rhetoric, which has a more detailed connection here, is the construction of an argument and can “never be innocent.” Where as ideology, is the provider of “the language to define the subject (the self), other subjects, the material world, and the relation of all of these to each other.” In other words, ideology is how we configure words to convey a specific message with an intended purpose. Therefore, our narrative voice, ideologies (combined with the ideologies of the writers we are interacting with), and rhetorical choices come together for us to form the writing presented in the academic world— and in some cases— beyond.

As we continue to grow as writers, educators, and students, we will constantly be learning. In other words, we will begin “a lifelong process of balancing individual perspectives and process with the opportunities, demands, constraints, and genres of specific rhetorical situations and contexts of the larger culture.” As times change and more information is presented, our narrative voices will change and adapt to these times much like they did when writing and education became something imperative for children (which started from middle class students to being more inclusive). Further, “ideology must continually be challenged” no matter what spaces we use it in because the world around us is changing and encouraging us, as writers, to push past what has always been written to what needs to be written for the progression of conversations.


Adler – Kassner, Linda. Wardle, Elizabeth. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. E-book, Kindle, 2015.

Berlin, James. “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009. 667-684.

Sommers, Nancy. “I Stand Here Writing.” College English, vol. 55, no. 4, Apr. 1993, pp. 420–428., doi:10.2307/378651.