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Watch Your Tone!

by Carmela Maraan

“Don’t use that tone of voice with me!”

How many times have you admonished someone, or have been admonished with this line? This happens often, not only in real-life exchanges, but also in online discussions. Unnecessary misunderstandings crop up because of the way something is said, and not necessarily what is being said. Kids are also usually subjected to this with well-meaning but poorly delivered criticism.

In blogging, the same principle applies.

I’ve seen some intelligent people with great ideas alienating themselves from their audience just because their messages come off as snarky, condescending, or even contemptuous, which is one of the worst and most arrogant attitudes that can be conveyed to anyone.

On the flip side, there’s also a style of online writing that panders too much to the audience. You’ll see several examples of this in landing pages, promotional newsletters, and some business websites. While it attempts to sound friendly, it gives off a patronizing and insincere impression.

Tone is the distinct personality and attitude that you project onto your readers. It’s a combination of the words that you use and how you use them. In fact, how you use your words is highly responsible for how you make your audience feel, regardless of what you say.

So how do you figure out what tone to use? It depends on key aspects of written communication:

Why you’re writing your material

When you’re writing content for your blog, it’s not enough that you select the appropriate words and terms to use. You need to tap into your material’s purpose, even if it’s content that’s mandated by your employer or clients, and not of your own choosing. Are you aiming to sell, inform, motivate, entertain, or befriend your readers?

For example, if you’re writing for a business blog, this is because you’re selling the brand to potential partners and investors. If you’re writing personal articles, perhaps it’s because you want your opinions and ideas to be heard.

Whom the material is intended for

Your target audience plays a huge part in determining your tone, so you need to determine exactly what kind of people you are writing for. You can’t use a highly technical style of writing when communicating with a broad audience, and content fraught with slang won’t always sit well with readers of corporate blogs.

What you wish to communicate to your readers

This is where you get to the bottom line: what is the end result you wish to see in your readers? What do you want them to feel after reading your material? How should you frame your words so you can sell, inform, motivate, entertain, or befriend them? How do you want to sound?

We don't know what he's saying, but we love how he says it.

An easy way to determine your writing tone is to list down all the qualities you want your audience to see: authoritative, friendly, easygoing, funny, inspiring. And when that gets difficult, you can also list down the qualities you want to avoid: arrogant, boring, uninformed, unprofessional, phony.

Finding and applying the right tone takes plenty of work because it requires a significant amount of empathy. What may sound good to you may not sound good to your readers, so try to see your words from their point of view.

You can refer to instances when you have received the best and worst responses from those who’ve read your previous work. You can also ask friends, colleagues, or even friendly competitors to give you an honest critique of your material.

Understandably, this requires compromise on your part, and at times you’ll have to take a long, hard look at your own personality quirks and flaws (I certainly had to, and it was embarrassingly tough). But if you’re sharing an idea and want people to appreciate it the way you want it to be appreciated, this exercise is crucial. Otherwise, your thoughts, no matter how brilliant they are, will only be ignored or even rejected.

You may think, but this is the way I express myself or I’m not here to please everyone, and you’re right. But the point of communication is to listen to your audience so you can meet them halfway to ensure that your message gets across with as little resistance as possible. It’s worth it, I promise.

If you’ve encountered other lessons on using the right tone for your blog, we’d be glad to hear about them here!

Image credits: Razoo.Com, Schools.Wetfeet.Com, Tier1.Wordpress.Com

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