Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tone Tips, Part 1: Defining Tone

This post is the first in a series on tone in business writing. I begin with four posts on theory, including this one. This one defines tone in writing, the next describes the risks of writing in a bad tone, the third explores influences on tone, and the final lists general practices for checking tone. The ten posts following these introductory ones present practical strategic tips for creating, improving, or maintaining a reader-centered tone.

What is tone?
The tone is the writer's underlying attitude that the reader infers from the message. What writers think about their own tone is insufficient. An employee might succeed in conveying a gracious tone to 11 of her 12 teammates, but the other one might find her tone to be ingratiating. A vendor might believe his emails appear focused to his clients, but some of them might actually find him to be demanding. A manager wants to seem confident to his staff of 40, but half of them might feel he is pompous and the other half strident. Indeed, most people read tone in their own special way, and most usually don't doubt their assumptions. They are certain that they're reading the writer's tone correctly.

Why is tone so important in writing?
Purposefulnesshaving a point, getting to it, and sticking to it—is paramount in business writing. But tone is a close second. At the least, people might ignore the simplest of email requests because they perceive a caustic tone in the requester. 

How can a bad tone prove worse than the work not getting done? The next post will explain.