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Years ago, business writers wrote all their communications in a formal tone that sounded the same throughout the piece—passive verbs, jargon, and the editorial “we” were all characteristic of this business writing style.  Only radical writers broke away from these established business writing principles. 

But today, when professionals are communicating with their clients through e-zines, blogs, and other mediums, the formal tone isn’t always appropriate. Depending on the situation, readers often demand some personality in business and marketing materials now because they want a personal connection.  They want to do business with a human being with a personality they like, not a formal entity or a “we,” and the tone you use in your business writing can accomplish this for you.

So what contributes to tone, and how can you use it effectively in your writing? Consider the following tips.

Tone and How it Works

Tone is the way any message sounds and how readers perceive your message. Tone can transform a professional message into an interesting correspondence, or, if done incorrectly, tone can reduce the document to a bland letter without much impact. The tone you use in your written communications can either be the first step in establishing goodwill with the reader or conversely it can alienate or irritate the person. The key to using tone in your writing successfully is to be aware of what tone is appropriate for the situation and be conscious of how tone is communicated in writing.

Formal Versus Informal

Most people can recognize a formal tone when they see it, but here are a few characteristics. Keep in mind, these strategies can and should be used when a formal tone is appropriate. First, in formal pieces you write out all the words in full without using any contractions. As well, writers can refer to people by title or job description and not by their names.  When employing the formal tone, avoid the words “I” and “me,” and use the faceless “we” instead.

Letters, memos, and e-mails all have a different tone from the formal business letter—as do some marketing materials.  Here you can put a little personality into the work. Informal means using conversational contractions, first person point of view, and essentially writing the way you might talk to a friend or associate on a person-to-person level. A great way to test the results is to read some of your letters and memos aloud so you can actually hear whether or not the words sound like you. 

Check Your Tone

Tone can range from casual to formal. And at one time, formal was seen as the professional standard. But that’s no longer the only—or even best—way to communicate with people, especially prospects.  Your blog readers and e-zine subscribers want to get to know you, which is why a personal note and more casual, conversational tone is effective in these situations.

So save the cold, formal, just-the-facts approach for sticky situations, like firing someone or writing for several people that you don’t know, as in business reports. And let your personality show in your writing. You’ll find that people respond better to you and your written materials.

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