A Proper Tone

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

The tone you use when in the workplace, whether it be verbal or written, can have a huge impact on the way you are viewed by others, your credibility, and much more. This article from Wheaton College tells us what tone is, as well as the proper way to choose and execute your tone while writing. Tone is how the writer conveys their attitude towards the reader in their writing. While writing in a business setting, it is ever so important to consider your tone. No matter what you are writing, your tone is a direct reflection of you and your character, and could come back to hurt you.

According to D.T. Griffith being tone-deaf means you completely disregard the tone and emotion of your writing. By being tone-deaf in your writing, you become vulnerable to being viewed as ignorant, unprofessional, and much more. This can really hurt you in a variety of ways. But there are plenty of ways to use proper tone and avoid being tone-deaf.

One of the first things you can do is use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It seems so simple, but if you ignore these fundamental ideas, you could be in jeopardy. If you are writing an email to your boss asking about a task and use slang such as “U” versus you, “R” versus are, etc. you are using an unprofessional and frankly disrespectful tone. Take the time to spell words out, create actual sentences, and convey your point effectively. It atone-2ll ties back into user-centered design. You do not want to use this immature tone in the workplace, even though you may use it with your friends. Your habits with your friends and family should not carry over into work, unless of course you always use a professional tone. Using simple and proper writing skills, such as the ones mentioned, is a fundamental piece in writing effectively and professionally.

As I am sure you know by know, the key to user-centered design is your audience and who will be reading your writing. Considering your reader can help you immensely in choosing what tone to use. One way to effectively shape your tone is your word choice. In choosing your words, you must consider a variety of factors.

A major consideration is what gender your reader is. In the past, it was common practice to use  words pertaining to males, often times “ignoring” females, but times have changed. Nowadays many people are quite sensitive about using gender specific words and phrases, so if you plan on having multiple genders reading,  it is a good idea to use gender neutral words. Tech Whirl gives a great in-depth explanation of gender-neutral writing. An example of this is avoid using he or she as generic pronouns, unless you are specifically talking only about the gender associated with aforementioned pronouns. If you are writing about clients and your original sentence is, “Make sure all the clients are well informed of our actions, and if he has a question…”, use they in place of he. Properly using gender related words is a key to avoid being tone-deaf.

A powerful piece of advice for employing an effective writing tone is to be confident, especially when you are writing about yourself and your ideas. Confidence is attractive to many employers, and will often give you a competitive advantage. There are a number of applicable examples of writing with confidence I could give you, ranging from cover letters to investment pitches to promotion proposals. If you appear confident in your ideas it conveys to your reader that you are qualified and know what you are talking about.

One final tip that I will leave you with is extremely simple, yet quite important to remember. It is imperative to be respectful and polite with your words. You do not want to come off as an egocentric jerk or anything close to that. Keep the professional setting in mind, and the fact your tone is a major reflection of yourself.


6 thoughts on “A Proper Tone

  1. James,
    I agree with your opinion about how user-centered design and tone are very closely knit, and play an important role in the writing process. I like how you mentioned “it’s not what you say but how you say it”, because that is exactly what tone is throughout a piece of writing. By keeping the reader in the back of your mind throughout your paper, you will be able to keep better focus on the subject and become a more respected writer. Great post fam!


  2. Ay Jimmer,
    I like how you mentioned we need to be aware of our tone especially depending on what gender you are talking to, and make sure you are being appropriate to the opposite sex. No matter if it is a male to female or female to male speaking we need to watch our tone. I like the way you write and touch on specific personal experiences. Good job.


  3. I really like how you emphasized tone in your post. I have seen first hand how someone’s perceived tone can greatly influence the interpretation of the email. Tone is completely up to the readers interpretation which is why it is easy for tone to be perceived in a different manner then was intended. Proper grammar is also important to an email, which you mentioned. Without proper grammar one will not be viewed as professional and will soon lose their email communication credibility. I also like how you mentioned being respectful and polite, yet confident. Confidence goes a long way in the world and can really help one be more successful. Overall this was a great post!

  4. I am a huge stickler to hating when people abbreviate their words! I think that that has to be the most unprofessional thing you could do in the workplace while writing to your peers, colleagues, boss, etc. You must properly write you emails with correct grammar and punctuation as you mentioned. We most definitely need to take the time to write respectful emails to one another. We gain credibility and respect. What else could you need in a job?! Good blog post!

  5. I like your post. It is well structured, and it is easy to read. You use words like “first, final, major” in the beginning of every paragraph. This can let people pay attention to your information easily. In the third paragraph you mentions “One of the first things you can do is use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.” These are really simple points but sometimes we will ignore that. Have a no syntax errors, no spelling mistakes emails is the way to respect your reader, especially when you are in professional work place.

  6. You make some really great points early on about how something as simple as using “U” instead of “you” can make a huge difference. It’s often the little things like that that end up getting us. Your at home tone should not be brought into the workplace, unless of course your playing ping-pong with one of the boys. I like your last point about just being respectful, as simple as it is.

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