Get your tone right

Have you wondered what people mean when they talk about tone and voice in writing? If so, read on!

First, let’s look at the difference between voice and tone.

Voice means your personal voice. If something’s been written in your voice, people who know you will be able to tell it’s your writing. It’s important that you understand a person’s voice if you are writing on their behalf.

Tone means your attitude towards the subject you’re writing about, or towards your readers. You can convey tone through your choice of words and your viewpoint on the subjects you’re writing about. For example, your tone can be humorous, sarcastic, pleasant, bored, serious or threatening.

Think of tone as a written form of the non-verbal cues and inflection you use to modify the meaning of your words when you’re speaking to someone.

Here’s the thing: to achieve the purpose of your writing, your tone is as important as your content. If your tone makes your writing unclear, confusing or offensive, your reader won’t be able to properly absorb or react to the messages or instructions you’re giving them.

Here are six tips to help you achieve the tone that suits your subject and your audience

1.   Know your purpose

Plan your writing so you’re clear about what you want your writing to achieve, and what messages you want it to convey. When you know these things, you’ll know what tone you need to use.

For example, the purpose of a user manual is to instruct people. So, the tone needs to be direct and neutral. The purpose of a letter acknowledging a mistake is to apologise and restore your readers faith and trust in your organisation. So, the tone needs to be apologetic and compassionate.

2.   Consider your audience

Before you start writing, think about who you are writing to. What does this person already know? What do they want or need to know? How do they like to receive information?

For example, if you’re writing to someone who is familiar with the subject and likes to receive short, factual updates, a formal, direct tone will be appropriate.

3.   Show you’re confident

When you write confidently, your writing will be clear. Clear writing helps your readers easily understand and respond to messages or instructions in the content.

You can show you’re confident by:

Qualifiers are words and phrases that modify the meaning of other words. They make sentences long and cluttered, and can make you sound hesitant.

For example: rephrase this flaky sentence: ‘The report seems to tell us that this investment is somewhat risky,’ to: ‘The report tells us the investment is risky.’

4.   Show you’re sincere

Your readers are more likely to trust what you say if your tone is sincere. Giving your readers facts and evidence is one way to show you’re sincere. Another way is to be upfront about bad news, rather than trying to hide it by using long sentences, passive voice and vague words.

5.   Be positive

Your readers will find a positive tone more appealing than a negative one. Use positive ways to write your sentences and avoid negative statements.

For example, say: ‘So we have time to process your order before Christmas, please submit it to us by 20 December,’ rather than: ‘Please submit your order by 20 December, otherwise we won’t be able to process it for you before Christmas.’

6.   Make your writing accessible

Before you start writing, think about who you’re writing to and what they understand about the subject. Choose words that they will understand, so they absorb your messages or instructions the way you intended. Remember to use plain English and avoid those dreaded zombie nouns.

Contact me to help you get the tone right in your writing.