Sound stuffy? Try using a less stilted tone.

English language becomes tricky in that multiple nuances exist in our writing. As business communicators, we run the risk of sounding awful to work with simply by omitting something like a warm greeting. In this blog, we tackle something many communicators ask us: How do I sound less formal (and therefore reasonable and easy to get along with) in my writing?

Add a warm greeting

Brevity rules. However, we can always find time to greet our reader by name. In doing so, we start building a relationship. You might also repeat the reader’s name towards the end when you appeal to them on why your ask (or the information you share) feels important.

Open up a little

Often we sound warmer when we make ourselves a little vulnerable, too. If your message asks your readers to do something, or, informs readers of something new, then,  share why this idea matters to you. What’s at stake? If your message outlines the need for your team to find better work-life balance, for instance, tell us (in a few sentences) you get it. You’re struggling to find the same balance, too.

A few lovely examples of open tone exist including this rare glimpse at an email from Apple Inc. icon Steve Jobs. The most revealing sentence: “Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see any other alternatives. Do you?” Honest and open. Straightforward and well written.

Use personal pronouns

If we want to sound warm and affable, then, avoid stating your company name when you’re meaning you. For instance, “I’d love for you to host our workshop,” vs. “Hanging Rock Media hopes you’ll host our workshop.”

Also, avoid style issues including passive voice, false subjects, and camouflaged verbs which can create a lofty, non-audience centered tone. Let’s dissect a real-world sentence for fodder:

This is not an investigation of the mistakes that have been made.

This sentence contains a false subject (this is), a camouflaged verb (investigation), followed by the passive (mistakes that have been made).

The BBC World News guest who made this quote sounded authoritative and in-charge to my ear, but not warm. If the expert wanted to sound personable and likable instead, an edit might read:

We’re not investigating the mistakes you’ve made.

I blog more on those style elements here. 

Make the message more about the reader vs. you

Often, we improve our tone by showing we’re thinking about our reader vs. what’s best for us. For example: If we’re asking our team to take a survey, make it clear in the lead of our message what they get in return. If we know the survey takes time, state that understanding up front, then, counter with the honest benefits. By structuring the message to ensure the reader understands the intent (and goal) of the message and by preempting their worries, already, we sound more thoughtful, more considerate.

Write to me with your ideas on improving tone—I’d love to hear. More blogs on business writing live here. 



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