Tone Deaf?

Dear 3040 and Beyond:

I’m a new grad at a big firm and I think I’ve messed things up with my co-workers. They’ve been acting weird around me and my only office friend says I’ve been offending people in my emails. From my boss to my peers, it looks like I’ve made everyone mad. The thing is, I have no idea what kinds of stuff I could say in email that would piss people off! I’m a nice person and I haven’t had many problems like this before. Can you help?


In Hot Water


Dear In Hot Water,

Take a deep breath everything will be fine. You are right out of college and already have a job so things are going well at this point. Your issues perhaps are coming from the tone in your writing, it like the tone in someone’s voice can completely change what you intend to say and can rub people the wrong way. As millennials it can be often times difficult to relate and communicate to other generations especially over email when they cannot see the tone you mean to convey.

The definition of tone in writing according to Purdue OWL is the “writer’s attitude toward the reader and the subject of the tone.” This means that if your tone is off in your writing then whomever you are sending emails to may interpret it in a way, you probably did not intended. You want to try and find your voice when you write, and there are some things to keep in mind in order to do so.

 Know Your Audience

 It is important to know whom your speaking to through your emails. You need to keep in mind that other employees and even your boss will probably be reading it so being formal and to the point is vital. Making sure you do not use improper grammar or misspell anything because in the work place it is something that can bother people and give you a laid back or lazy tone, which as I discussed in an earlier post is a stereotype of millenials. Workplace communication is different from talking to a friend, with a friend you can be informal and use terms such as “lol” and “omg” but in the workplace will only make people have issues with you. These things are not meant to be mean to anyone or hurtful but are something that in the tone of writing can make you sound bad which is obviously not what you want. 

Proofreading is Key

Sometime it can be easy to forget that everything you say in an email is taken as it is so being sure that you read over what you are going to send is imperative. When you are working it is easy to quickly write an email and send it off but you always need to be sure yoimagesu proofread everything you send. When you go back and read through it, reading it out loud will help you understand the tone of what you are saying because that is how the reader will interpret it. Reading something aloud can sometimes sound much different then when it is written so this will be a good check on the tone of the writing. This step may be the most important of them all when determining if your tone is appropriate.

Getting to the Point

 Making sure your emphasize the key point of what you are trying to send will help keep your email short and to the point leaving little room for you to use a harsh tone. A long run on sentence is opening your up to using improper tone so making short concise sentences will be polite and much harder to be misunderstood. The excess background information you might add can be the source of the tone in your writing. People also do not want or have time to read long sentences that have unnecessary information in it, so keeping to the point will make it easier to read in turn being more acceptable by whoever is reading.

So to conclude, In Hot Water you need to always be conscious of your tone in writing. Three keys to being sure your tone is appropriate are making sure you know who you are speaking to, always reading what you write out loud to be sure your tone isn’t offensive, and making short concise sentences that don’t have information they do not need to read.


Henry Joyce


6 thoughts on “Tone Deaf?

  1. Hi Hank,
    First off I really enjoyed reading your post and thought that it was very helpful, especially in regards to helping Hot Water. Your introduction/first couple paragraphs were very informing and easy to comprehend. I also liked the fact that you touched on how your tone can completely rub people the wrong way if you are not careful, especially when communicating with other generations over email. Your use of background information from Purdue OWL is also all very important to tell Hot Water about in order for him to improve his business writing, so I am happy it was included in your post.

  2. I really liked how you started off with a very relatable and compassionate tone and then maintained it throughout the rest of your post. You gave great advice about how millennials should be sure to proofread their emails before sending them. I had previously not read my emails out loud before sending them, but I think it is a good idea and I am going to start doing it from now on. I also agree that emails need to be concise in order to get the intended tone across. It helped that you summarized your keys points in the last paragraph of your post. Good job!

  3. Hey! i really liked how this article began, to put yourself in their shoes makes it such a more relatable email response. I definitely need to work on my proofreading of my emails because it becomes so easy to just send them off and not even think what you said so making that such a key element was very effective. I liked how you connected purdue owl to your article that was kind of a very interesting way to relate the two blog posts you have written. Probably my favorite thing about your blog post this week was the summary at the end! because i could quickly go look there if i needed another resource to check out when writing professional emails! great job!

  4. Hi Hank! I though you did a really good job of reassuring the reader in the first paragraph. By establishing yourself as a friend and ally early on you have put your reading in a better position and state of mind to absorb and fully utilize the information and advice you are sharing with them. Well done! Further, the general format of your blog past is clear and concise making it easy for the reader to follow and comprehend. Your use of subtitles and bolded type is very effective and draws the readers attention to your main points. Overall Well done! I look forward to reading your posts in the future.

  5. Hey Hank!

    The words in into reminds me of something my mom always says! My mom has always told me “you can say whatever you want, you just have to find the right way to say it.” Though you did not quite use good ol’ Katha Snow’s (my mom) quote directly, I think that you really explained that even though In Hot Water is young and new to the work place, his voice and ideas are important, he just has to find the right way to convey himself. Pointing out the importance of knowing your audience, proofreading and getting to the point are all essentials to finding out just how to say what you want to, in the appropriate way. I especially think knowing your audience is important because a crucial part of deciding what tone to use is dependent on who you are addressing. You nailed that concept on the head when you talked about the difference between workplace communication and talking to friends.

    Thanks for the refreshing read.

    Tessa Snow

  6. Hello Henry! I enjoyed reading your blog post. I like how you started off with a very calming tone. It really eases and sets up what the rest of your blog post is going to be about. I also think it is essential to know who your audience is. I can see how easily it is for millennials to slip up and forget the appropriate forms of communication in the workplace. Using slang will really throw off the reader in a formal setting. I agree that it is very important to keep it to the point. If you can get your message across by being as straightforward, but respectable, as possible, then you will have highly effective business communication skills!

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