Tone of Voice – Getting it RIGHT
‘Which side of the bed did you get up this morning?’
That’s the question that several people attending my training courses have been asked by their bosses.
And anyone who works in public research will know that once two or three people say the same thing there is probably some wider truth in it. (In the same way, MPs know that it is time to sit up and take notice of us once they get a handful of letters reporting the same thing.).
After reading a piece of my training delegates’ writing – a report, blog post, whatever – their bosses said to them, “What mood were you in when you wrote that?!”
So, what exactly did they mean?
And what do we conclude?
Answer: That the tone of voice of our writing is dependent not just on obvious things (see later) but also on which side of the bed we get up.
Not literally of course …
The boss’ meant: whether the trains were running on time and the sun was shining, did their team win last night, and did they had time to grab their favourite frothie semi-skimmed latte with sprinkles on top before getting to work.
There are 3 conclusions of the boss’ feedback:
- We need be aware of – and careful – if we find ourselves in an extreme mood, either positive (e.g. excited, jokey, spontaneous) or negative (depressed, annoyed, fed up) as this will impact on our writing – quite possibly sending it away from the style we wanted. Yes, unless we are careful, what we are feeling like, have been watching or reading, whether or not we have plans for the evening/weekend, and our relationships, will all have an impact.
- So, before picking up our pen, we should ‘get into the mood’ we want to convey in our writing. For example, if you want to come across as business like ‘dress the part’ – don’t write when still in your pyjamas on a Sunday morning, lounging around on your settee. It won’t work.
- And finally, recognise that – because of the above – there may be times when we need to stop, adjust, and get into the right ‘zone’ before we pick up our pen … otherwise we’re signing up for an awful lot of unnecessary time later, editing.
Tone of Voice – Components
All of which is important for anyone wanting to effect the right tone of voice.
Wake up, readers, if you ever have to write any of the following: a persuasive proposal, the minutes of a legal or important meeting, some marketing text (print or digital), finely-balanced notes e.g. for a staff appraisal, etc.
The other, more obvious, ingredients to your writing’s tone of voice are these 3 things:
- What you say – the content.
- How you word it – your vocabulary.
- And how you say it – the grammar.
Let’s look at an example …
Suppose you write a blog about how you, unexpectedly, won a half-marathon last weekend. Well, that will be pretty inspiring to many people – especially if it was during bad weather and you won against all odds.
But if you litter it with some inspiring words – struggled, overcame, fought, won – it will be even more inspiring to your readers.
And you can affect the tone one step further with your grammar, by which I include the following:
- Sentence length – long sentences tend to sound more formal that short ones, which keep your voice more casual. The latter are also easier to read, and a great place to put key points you want to stress. Like this.
- Active or passive sentences – the latter make sentences longer (see above), as well as being not the natural way most people speak.
- Use of pronouns – using we, you and I, etc., will make your writing more engaging to the reader compared to referring to Mr X, Andrew (or avoiding using people’s names completely).
- Contractions – we’re (instead of we are), can’t (instead of cannot/can not), etc. Again, the former ones will give your writing a softer tone.
- Punctuation – semi-colons are not your everyday punctuation, as well as resulting in longer sentences.
Moral of this story .. for your tone of voice?
Say ‘No’ to jumping out of bed ‘on the wrong side’.
For help with tone tone of voice, how to write persuasively, and other help, contact PerfectText.