The great American composer Irving Berlin once said, “Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it.” With this thought in mind, I mention in almost every writing class I present that how you write something (tone) is as important as what you write (content).
During one of my recent courses, Rita Hein, an analyst in the Worker’s Compensation Unit for the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, proved that she has a deep understanding of tone. Ms. Hein wrote a proposal for changing certain work responsibilities to her manager. In her first draft, she wrote in a style reflective of her personal relationship with her manager; in her second draft, she wisely chose a less personal style in case the proposal would go to upper management. Notice below in an excerpt from the justification section that she removes herself from the second draft to create a more appropriately bureaucratic feel:
First Draft (personal): This change would enable me to allocate more time for preparing files for Workers’ Compensation Board hearings.
Second Draft (impersonal): This change would enable the allocation of more time for preparing files for Workers’ Compensation Board hearings.
In the second draft of her concluding statement, the writer once again removes herself from the sentence and chooses the passive voice to make the narrative more objective and impersonal.
First Draft (personal): Upon your approval, I can set aside one hour a day for the next four days to train Colleen in the procedures of her new assignments.
Second Draft (impersonal): If this proposal is approved, one hour a day for the next four days would be set aside to train Colleen in the procedures of her new assignments.
Careful writers like Ms. Hein judiciously use active or passive voice and add or remove personal pronouns to keep the writer focused on the point and not on the egos involved. The result will surely mean faster action.
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