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  • Writer's pictureMichele Andorfer

Watch Your Tone! Especially While Working Remotely

Have you ever written an email, only to have your entire tone misunderstood? Perhaps you accidentally came across too harsh or too flippant? The best way to fix such a misunderstanding is probably picking up the phone and talking to your recipient!

Save the time and hassle and get it right the first time. Today, we’re talking about the importance of tone in your written business communications. This is especially important when working remotely, since we are writing more emails than ever.

What is Tone in Written Communications?

Written communications have the advantage over verbal communications because we can write, revise, and re-write. But we are missing what experts identify as the majority of communication: Body language. We can make up for this by carefully choosing our words and keeping an eye on our overall tone.

“Tone” is “the general attitude of a piece of writing.” Tone can be any adjective you can imagine, such as serious, humorous, authoritative, formal, informal, pessimistic, optimistic… the list goes on.

Tone is important in all written communications, even simple emails. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you sit down to write:

  1. Who is my audience?

  2. What is the key message I want my audience to understand?

  3. What tone is appropriate for delivering this message?

What Kind of Tone IS Appropriate?

Purdue provides some general guidelines for business writing that can help us shape our tone:

  • Be confident.

  • Be courteous and sincere.

  • Use appropriate emphasis and subordination.

  • Use non-discriminatory language.

  • Stress the benefits for the reader.

  • Write at an appropriate level of difficulty.

In other words, be CLEAR and SINCERE.

One way you can improve the overall clarity if your writing is by using active voice instead of passive voice. UW-Madison provides a useful guide for flipping your writing to the active voice that I encourage you to read. Here’s an example:

Passive: It is believed by the candidate that a ceiling must be placed on the budget by Congress.

Active: The candidate believes that Congress must place a ceiling on the budget.

Another tip for improving clarity is to cut out extraneous words, phrases, and background details.

Too wordy: I received your email that you sent yesterday in regards to your request for a larger budget, and had the chance to read through it thoroughly.

More concise: In response to your request for a larger budget...

Finally, take a page from Grammerly’s book and strive to use more precise language in your writing. Vague adjectives such as “good” and “important” can be replaced with “excellent” and “essential.”

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Like any skill, it takes practice. If you’re constantly misunderstood by the recipients of your written communications, it’s time to practice writing with better tone.

If you found this helpful, let me know!



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