don't you take that tone with me...


the words still echoing from days of hearing that all too familiar phrase in response my teenage antics... nowadays tone is one of those nuances you sometimes need a metal detector for. it's often shadowed by your best intentions or eclipsed by miscommunication, or worse, a wild misinterpretation. well, if tone is such a trouble maker, why do we even bother? is it because tone shows up everywhere, making it an inescapable facet of communication? or is it because tone is the shortest distance between words and actual meaning?  if you said yes to all of the above, you're right! tone is an invaluable tool to writing. to better orient it's value think of it in these terms: tone is to your message what frosting is to cake. much like chocolate frosting on a vanilla cake, tone is the individual personality to all your writing. 

and like all things, it's got a darkside. tone can turn on you if you don't pay it close attention. i hear from clients and students alike about the trials and tribulations of displaced tonage. writing emails, bios, cover letters, personal statements and dating profiles are all examples where tone is heavily relied upon and equally as tricky for some to master.


take humor for instance: let's say you are exchanging emails with a potential date you have met online. you have been in contact long enough now that the mood has become more familiar and perhaps more casual and you are inclined to crack a joke. you do, you think it's funny and lighthearted, maybe you use italics for emphasis and poke a little fun at your new pen pal. maybe you use lots of punctuation (extra exclamation points and maybe a mix of question marks and ellipses for effect) you are quite pleased with your sassy missive and you press wait, and nothing.

you crossed your t's and dotted your i's but you may have skipped an important step. it's the step less taken at times, but critical nonetheless. the tone check. did your humor come off as sarcastic, or your playful flirtation as snarky? could your best intentions have been met with the unforseable wild card of misinterpretation and worse, documentation? tone is powerful, it has the influence to shape the entire mood of anything in writing, this is as beneficial as it is dangerous.

here are ten tips to giving good tone:

1) as always, and this is no exception: read what you have written outloud. try doing from the perspective of your audience. keep in mind that they will undoubtedly read what you have written from another point of view than your own, it's inevitable.

2) in a professional context: use only professional language. never try and challenge the given dynamic, use clear language, and good grammar (tone can be measured in subtleties like syntactical errors).

3) for your personal pursuits: careful not to overdue it. if you are being funny, be funny, not hysterical. if you are being warm, be thoughtful, not inappropriate.

4) know your words. yes, diversifying your vocabulary is essential to good writing, but not at the risk of saturating your objectives. don't get carried away.

5) mine for misfired meanings. be careful that you did not employ any double agents, your intentions and words should be seamlessly in sync.

6) take yourself seriously and so will everyone else. if you use language such as, "i think," in place of, "i know," or " i believe," you won't be as convincing.

7) find the personality of the specific writing you are doing and stick behind it, consistency is as integral to your message as the message itself.

8) be polite, manners make the world go round.

9) be thorough, leave nothing you want to be read to chance.

10) don't be afraid. write anything you want and then get your tone detector out. be sure to comb through your finished product for tangled up intentions and always be sure to smooth it out before sending it along.