Adapting the Tone of the Project

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Adapting the Tone of the Project

Adapting the Tone of the Project

Tone in writing is just like the tone of your voice; it conveys the writer's attitude toward the audience and the content in the message.

In order to ensure you have the proper tone for your written communication, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this writing project?
  2. Who is the audience for the document?
  3. What do I want the reader to understand after reading this document?

What Is the Purpose of This Writing Project?

Consider the message you are trying to convey:

  1. What action do you want the reader to take after reading the message?
  2. Once you have determined this, the tone will become apparent. Obviously you will use a professional business tone, but:
    1. Will it be formal or more casual?
    2. Will the tone be enthusiastic?
    3. Will the tone be appreciative?

Adapt the writing to convey the message in the light in which you want it conveyed.

Who Is the Audience for the Document?

The audience will determine the level of formality in the message. If you are writing the document for the Board of Directors, or the CEO, the tone will be more formal than it would be if you were creating a report for your colleagues.

Once you have determined who the audience is, you need to decide what you want the reader to do or understand after reading the document.

Consider the following situations:

  1. If you are simply conveying information with the message, the tone will be professional and informative.
  2. If you expect the reader to act upon something in the message, the tone will be professional, as well as direct.

You do not want to make your reader guess what it is you want him or her to do.

Guidelines for Considering Tone

Keep the guidelines listed in the table below in mind for your written communication when you are considering the kind of tone you want to use:

Be Confident Your reader will know if you are not confident because the writing will not be well organized or clearly written. Proper preparation for the writing project will show in the writing and your reader will then not only recognize your confidence, but will also assume you are competent. A tone conveying both competence and confidence will leave your reader with a good impression about your professionalism.
Be Courteous and Sincere Courteousness is a given when writing a business document in a professional manner, but sincerity is sometimes harder to convey. If the politeness extended appears to be phony, the reader will immediately think you are being condescending. The way to get the reception you desire is to be honest and respectful when writing. Consider the wording you are using and how the reader will receive it.
Use Appropriate Emphasis If there are certain elements you want to emphasize in your writing, you use short, to the point sentences and place the information at the beginning of the paragraph, following it up with supporting sentences and detail. To de-emphasize some information, use compound sentences and place the information in the middle or toward the end of the paragraph. Use active voice to emphasize who or what is performing an action and passive voice to emphasize the action that is being performed.

You can also use language to emphasize or tell the importance of something. Using words like "primary," "major," or "most important" will certainly clue the reader in to the importance of something. Conversely, words like "secondary," "minor," or "least important" will let the reader know that the point being made is not as critical as other information may be.

Using Nondiscriminatory Language

In this day of political correctness, it is necessary to use the kind of language that does not demean or belittle anyone. Avoid the use of stereotypical terms as well.

Some guidelines for proper, non-discriminatory language are:

  1. Use neutral job titles: flight attendant, NOT stewardess and chairperson, NOT chairman.
  2. Avoid stereotypical terms: women or men, NOT girls or boys, when referring to females and males over the age of 18.
  3. Do not use words that imply gender: doctors and their spouses, NOT doctors and their wives.
  4. Do not use information that assigns someone to a specific group: Susan ran the race well, NOT Susan ran the race well for her age.
  5. Use non-gender-specific salutations if you do not know the reader's gender: To Whom it May Concern, NOT Dear Gentlemen.
  6. Do not use masculine pronouns if the nouns are not gender specific: Every person needs to bring his or her own lunch, NOT Every person needs to bring his own lunch.

Stressing the Benefits for the Reader

WIIFM: What's in it For Me? This is the perspective the reader is coming from. Instead of writing from the perspective of what you can do for the reader, use the perspective of what the reader can do for you.

For example, if you are letting a reader know when his or her printing order will be done, write it like this: "Your order will be ready for pick-up tomorrow." Do not write it like this: "I will have your order ready tomorrow."

Writing at an Appropriate Level of Difficulty

To do this, you must know your readers and how well they know the subject you are writing about. If the audience is a general one, do not use complex, jargon-laden sentences.

Match your writing style to the reading abilities of your audience by using appropriate examples and language to ensure understanding by the audience. If your readers are very knowledgeable about the subject, be careful that you don't insult them by using simple language and examples.