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