How to Choose the Right Tone of Voice in Writing

Introduction

We all have a tone of voice, whether we realize it or not. It's how we speak to our friends and family members, express ourselves on social media and write emails at work.

In short, our voice is who we are. But what exactly is voice? And how can you use your own authentic tone when writing?

The definition of tone,

The dictionary meaning of tone is "the attitude that a writer or speaker conveys."

When you read an article about how to set up a home office, for example, you might feel that it's written in a friendly tone if the author seems happy and enthusiastic about setting up your new workspace.

Suppose you visit your local coffee shop and order one of their specialty drinks, say an iced caramel latte with two pumps of vanilla syrup and whipped cream drizzled on top. In that case, you'd probably expect something different from the barista than if they were handing over change at the register after buying some gum at the gas station across town.

In both cases, the friendly home office post and the welcoming coffee shop interaction, you know what kind of person wrote/said these things just by reading them because they represent different attitudes.

One is helpful, while another can be snarky. One wants success, while the other wishes they could take off their shoes and get comfortable before being served dessert.

What Is Tone in Writing?

Tone is the attitude or feeling you convey in your writing. It’s the way you sound when you write.

For example, if I were to say, “I saw a movie last night,” my tone would be casual and conversational. In contrast, if I wrote something like, “Last night I saw a movie that was very entertaining!” my tone would be more formal and enthusiastic.

Tone is an important part of good business writing because it helps establish a connection with readers by understanding how they should feel about what they are reading.

Writing Tone vs. Writing Voice

Sometimes, there is confusion between tone and voice, and newbie writers may use both terms interchangeably.

Tone is different from voice. Voice refers to the writing style itself; who you are as a person comes through in your choice of words, sentence structure and diction (vocabulary).

Voice is also influenced by your experiences growing up, such as where you grew up, what language was spoken around you at home (if any), and what books were read aloud during childhood.

But it doesn't depend on those factors alone. You can choose how educated or uneducated you want to sound. A word choice like “antiquated” might make sense for an academic paper on Shakespeare but would seem out of place in an email promoting a sale at a clothing store.

Your voice and, therefore, your writing style will change depending on the content or message you share. 

However, your tone should remain consistent throughout all pieces of content that share the same purpose (for example, if all blog posts are meant to be helpful).

How to Choose the Right Tone

To choose the right tone, you need to know who you're writing for and what message you want to convey:

  • Are your readers familiar with the brand you’re writing for? If not, do they know about it at all?

  • What is the purpose of this piece? Is it informative or persuasive?

  • Are the readers likely to share it with others after reading it, or are they more likely just read for themselves (as in a blog post)?

Think About Your Audience

The starting point for any piece of creative writing is knowing your audience. Your tone should reflect the expectations and needs of your audience, as well as their interests and values.

To get started, you need to consider the following:

  • Demographics: Gender, age range, location (city/country), education level etc.

  • Language: Are they native English speakers or non-native? How is their grammar? What about spelling?

  • Culture: Do they prefer direct communication versus indirect? Are politics viewed as a conversational taboo, or are they passionate about current events?

Tailor Tone for Specific Content

You should tailor the tone to the content and audience. The tone can be formal or casual, highbrow or lowbrow, bold or quiet. 

It’s why you might hear an NPR host say something like “Hey guys!” and then turn around and hear another say, “This is NPR News.” The first example is more informal, while the second is more formal.

Regarding what your audience prefers, that depends on who they are (business people might like more professionalism than teenagers).

And remember, it’s not just what they want from us. It’s also about how much information we want them to digest concerning our goals for the writing we create together.

How do I know when I've got the wrong tone?

There's no right or wrong when it comes to tone, as the tone of your writing will depend on the piece's content. 

If you're unsure about the tone of your work, try testing out different sentences or paragraphs on friends and family first and ask them to be honest with you. They’ll let you know if the tone seems slightly “off.”

A great way to avoid hitting the wrong tone is to find an emotion that matches the tone of your work. For example, try conveying happiness in your word choice if you're writing about a happy event.

What should I avoid when trying to find the correct tone?

Your audience will connect with you more if they feel like you're actually talking to them. That means avoiding words and phrases that might make you look arrogant or cocky - this will only make you look bad.

Instead, try to use words and phrases that convey the emotions you feel while writing. For example, if you are writing about someone struggling, try to show their feelings through your writing instead of putting them into perfect words.

Lastly, avoid sounding preachy, condescending, or pedantic - these tones will put people off instead of drawing them in.

Don't get too caught up in trying to find the "right" voice or tone

Although finding the right tone is important, don't get too caught up in it. It's more important to focus on what you want to say and how you want your audience will respond.

Just be yourself.  Write with your own voice, use your own words, and be authentic and honest in what you say.

In other words, just write how you would normally talk if someone asked you a question about the topic at hand.

And then listen intently for feedback from the audience. That’s how you truly learn whether your tone was spot on or off the mark.

Use a Consistent Style Guide

Although not strictly a part of writing tone, a sloppy style can certainly affect tone. 

It's important to be consistent in how you use punctuation, capitalization, and other elements of grammar. 

For example, don't capitalize a word unless it's a proper noun (like "New York City") or if it is at the beginning of a sentence.

You should also avoid using different style guides throughout your work. Instead, choose one and stick with it throughout your writing so that readers can easily follow along from start to finish.

Many style guides are available for free online, and some even include samples for inspiration.

The copy is a reflection of the brand

The tone of your copy should be consistent with what you want your company to look like, sound like, and feel like. Your tone needs to match how people perceive your brand.

It’s also important that all communications align with one another in tone.

If you have an upbeat and fun personality as a business but then write in an overly formal tone in some places, it would confuse people who aren’t familiar with your business or industry.

Conclusion

The tone in creative writing can be tricky to nail down, but by understanding the different aspects of tone, you'll find the correct tone for your writing.

The tone of your writing will reflect the brand's personality, so it's important to choose the right one. The best way to find the correct tone is by practicing and getting feedback from your audience.

Also, remember that all writing has a tone, so don't get too caught up in trying to find the "right" voice or tone - there isn't one.

By understanding tone and how to choose the right one for your content, you'll be well on your way to writing with authority and style.

Keep the blog posts coming, and let us know how you go!

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