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The Importance of Tone in Writing

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Computers and the internet have opened speedy pathways of communication that were not available to us just a short while ago. Like a freeway of vehicles traveling at high speeds, communication at top speed has certain hazards and accidents can happen if the operator is not aware of the power of the vehicle being used. Communicating with the written word is a powerful vehicle and if the user is unaware of certain basic cautions, it is similar to launching onto a freeway without paying attention to the rules that govern safe driving.

One of the most important cautions is to be mindful of the tone in your writing.

This is a challenge even in face to face conversations where subtle hints from body language, voice inflection, and facial expression communicate tone to the listener that is in some cases more important than the actual words being spoken. Behind a screen, on the other side of an electronic communication, the receiver has none of these indicators to draw upon when trying to understand the tone in your writing. This is what makes written word more challenging when it comes to establishing tone. The writer has to be doubly mindful of what is being conveyed beyond the words.

Safety precaution number one: Avoid assuming intimacy
Don't use nicknames or abbreviated fist names without the prior consent of the person you are communicating with. Also, avoid asking the person if using an abbreviation is OK. Let a 'Robert' offer that 'Rob' is preferred and you'll maintain safety in your communication. In this category of assumed intimacy you will find the common error of assuming similar tastes in humor, politics, religion and just about anything else. Imagine your written word was going to be read on national TV and let that guide the tone you use and the topics you address.

Safety precaution number two: Avoid jargon
Using language that is common to your industry or community, especially specialized terminology or phrases, may alienate people who are not familiar with the terms. Try reading your communication with the eyes of a someone who knows nothing about your organization to determine if there is anything in your written word that detracts from easy access to what you want to be understood. Imagine your written word was going to be read on national TV and let that guide the tone and terminology you use.

Safety precaution number three: Avoid acronyms
Avoid becoming lazy and using acronyms in your communication, even when communicating with people who are familiar with the acronym. Write out the complete phrase and I think you will find that ease of reading and comprehension improves. Imagine your written word was going to be read on national TV and try to be accessible to as many people as might be watching.

Safety precaution number four: Avoid insinuation
As with relationships in real life, communication that makes people have to guess at the meaning can produce the effect of increasing stress. So take time to write what you mean and then take time to be certain that what you've written is stripped of any ambiguous language, hints or obscure references. Imagine your written word was going to be read on national TV and let your goal be to not create a single glazed over look by something in the tone of your writing.

On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 

Secrets of Successful Writers 

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer 

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