The Six Rules of Effective Communications: Rule Three

Writing tone

When approach­ing any type of writ­ing, we fol­low Hake’s six key rules to clear­er, more effec­tive and more engag­ing copy. In our last two blogs, we looked at rules num­ber one (know your audi­ence) and two (set a clear goal). This week we are look­ing at:

Rule Number Three: Get The Tone Right

Tone is incred­i­bly impor­tant. Research shows that peo­ple’s under­stand­ing of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion is based:

  • 7% on the words used
  • 55% on the body lan­guage used
  • 38% on the tone used

When we remove body lan­guage and rely on writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the tone becomes all the more impor­tant, as do the words used to con­vey it.

It’s Not What You Said — It’s How You Said It

Tone depicts the author’s atti­tude towards the top­ic and the audi­ence, and it deter­mines how the audi­ence might respond. For example:

  • An angry tone may invoke a ner­vous or defen­sive response; whereas
  • A light­heart­ed and airy tone may cre­ate feel­ings of hap­pi­ness and openness.

Set­ting the right tone through words alone is hard and get­ting it wrong can ruin an oth­er­wise excel­lent piece of writing. 

How To Set The Right Tone?

There are a num­ber of use­ful tips to help you set and main­tain the right tone for your writing:

Understand the situation

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion about store clo­sures will require a dif­fer­ent tone to an announce­ment about your lat­est sale. Under­stand what tone the sit­u­a­tion calls for and adjust accordingly. 

Understand your audience

We already know how impor­tant this is and the same knowl­edge will help you to set the right tone for your con­tent. Will your audi­ence take kind­ly to a tongue-in-cheek blog or do you need to cre­ate a more seri­ous and for­mal tone?

Be positive

Rarely does writ­ing require you to be all doom-and-gloom; and rarely does all doom-and-gloom engage and moti­vate audi­ences. Pos­i­tive imagery helps to avoid your audi­ence mis­con­stru­ing your tone and tak­ing offence. “We need more of your help” is a lot bet­ter than “you haven’t pro­vid­ed us with enough help”

Equal­ly, avoid con­trol­ling lan­guage, such as “you should help”, replac­ing it with more engag­ing  and moti­vat­ing lan­guage, such as “it would help us if you…”

Write to one person

As Amer­i­can author John Stein­back said: “Your audi­ence is one sin­gle read­er. I have found that some­times it helps to pick out one person‑a real per­son you know, or an imag­ined per­son-and write to that one”. Not only is this incred­i­bly pow­er­ful (“I need your help” as opposed to “I need some­one’s help”) but it also helps to:

Keep it consistent

Tone is sub­jec­tive. One per­son­’s rude and direct is anoth­er’s clear and to-the-point. Pick­ing one per­son to write to allows you to keep your tone con­sis­tent and avoid it being misconstrued.


Adults (as well as chil­dren) respond well to sto­ry­telling. It takes us on an emo­tion­al and engag­ing jour­ney, allow­ing for detail, rather than black-and-white facts and fig­ures. This detail also allows you to bet­ter set the tone: We’ve all received the “ok” text mes­sage and ques­tioned, are they angry or busy? Descrip­tions allow us to describe the tone we want to set. 

Define & follow your business’ tone of voice

This is your ver­bal brand. Brain­storm how you want your organ­i­sa­tion to be per­ceived, to define exact­ly how your organ­i­sa­tion should speak; includ­ing your tone. Inno­cent smooth­ies’ tone is a lot dif­fer­ent to the Law Soci­ety’s but both guide writ­ers how to pitch their con­tent and guide read­ers on what to expect. 

Clearer Communication

Set­ting the right tone is the key to start­ing any piece of writ­ing, to ensure that it is clear and effec­tive for your audience.

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