Conversational Human Voice

Researchers Tom Kelleher and Barbara Miller have created an 11-item measure of the conversational human voice (yes, the Cluetrain Manifesto one). So, if you’d like to measure the conversational human voice of your blog, website, or automated telephone prompters (OK, maybe not this last one), plug the following items in a survey and ask your public to respond:

  1. Invites people to conversation.
  2. Is open to dialogue.
  3. Uses conversation-style communication.
  4. Tries to communicate in a human voice.
  5. Tries to be interesting in communication.
  6. Uses a sense of humor in communication.
  7. Provides links to competitors.
  8. Attempts to make communication enjoyable.
  9. Would admit a mistake.
  10. Provides prompt feedback addressing criticism with a direct but uncritical
  11. Treats me and others as human.

The items are published on p. 413 of the article (see full citation & link below). For those who wish to get technical, the authors reported an alpha reliability coefficient of .87 for this scale. Which means that the scale has pretty high internal consistency – or that people who rank high on one item in the scale tend to rank high on the other ones, too. If they didn’t, you’d wonder if the items are measuring different things. OK, enough about that.

But why would I want to measure human voice?

I don’t know, why would you? You tell me in the comments. If you’re trying to fake the human voice and want to use this measure to see if you succeed, well… well, you have bigger problems then. But you might want to perform an experiment to assess the different impacts of different levels of conversational human voice. That’s what the authors tried to do in phase II of their study, but the validity gods weren’t merciful with that part and for that reason I’d rather not write about it. I’ll stick with the good part.

I find it very useful to have a validated scale for measuring human voice, but then, my world here in the ivory tower is a weird, weird one (you might say). What does the real world think? Would you use this scale? When? Why? How?

Article citation:

Kelleher, T., & Miller, B. M. (2006). Organizational blogs and the human voice: Relational Strategies and Relational Outcomes. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 395-414.

(it’s one of those few academic journals available for free online)


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3 responses to “Conversational Human Voice”

  1. Raluca says :

    Dear Mihaela,

    Thanks a lot for the useful references — as a beginner, it’s something that interests me, although I never really sat down and did serious research on.

    I’m sorry for taking the scale out of its context. The scale seemed to apply to any conversational style in general, and it’s when I teach that I’m most aware of my voice, hence my hasty mix-up.

    You’re so right about accent not necessarily being an impediment – I recently told the same thing to a friend who’s also teaching.

    I’m glad to have stumbled into your page. Will be back.

  2. Mihaela says :

    Hi Raluca,
    Thank you for reading this blog. As a follow-up on your comment, I think I should clarify that the article I discussed in this post does not intend to measure qualities of spoken human voice. I can see how, if you’re not familiar with the larger context, you could interpret it this way.

    Conversational human voice is, to put it simply, a style of writing and communicating that organizations can and should use instead of corporate speech. It’s a term used in public relations, and was introduced in an online article (and book), The Cluetrain Manifesto: The concept is carried on by Scoble & Israel’s recent book Naked Conversations, and by many others in the areas of online public relations and marketing.

    There actually are studies similar to the one you’re proposing. If you’re interested in reading, here are a couple of citations:

    Rubin, D. (1992). Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates’ judgments of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. Research In Higher Education, 33(4), 511-531.

    Plakans, B.S. (1997). Undergraduates’ Experiences with and Attitudes toward International Teaching Assistants. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 95-119.

    As an international instructor myself, with an accent that’s got to be very similar to yours (Romanian, right?), I can promise you that students can respect and appreciate you in spite of, or even because of, your accent. Expertise, authority, empathy and care matter a lot more than accent, as long as they can understand you. Good luck!

  3. Raluca says :

    Interesting scale. As a new (and international) instructor, I always worry that my voice (and accent, of course) may not be good enough to convey my expertise and enthusiasm to my students. Personally, I would ask my students to rate several professors on this scale at the end of the semester (or maybe at the beginning – first impressions count a lot, too) and compare the results with the findings from the evaluation forms. I think it would make a revealing study. Or am I too self-conscious? 🙂

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