That’s just a little something my old Grandad used to say to me, swiftly followed by something like “your breath smells a funny colour!”. He was a funny man…
But I appear to have digressed somewhat, but not without good reason. You see I was starting to think about my next (this) blog post earlier today and I decided that I needed to look at tone with regard to writing. And when I thought about tone, that little gem popped into my head. It always made me smile.
And so to tone. The ‘tone’ of a piece of writing is just like a person’s tone of voice. Depending on what we’re talking about or who we’re talking to, we all adopt different tones of voice to help convey our mood, message or meaning. And so it’s true in writing. It may not seem that the written word can adopt a tone of voice but it really can. My personal writing style, for example, is lighthearted, informal, chatty, conversational, sometimes even humourous (I hope!). But when I’m writing for my clients I have to be very careful to ensure I’m using their tone of voice and not my own.
Tone of voice as part of a brand
It’s vital that the tone of voice you use when writing on behalf of your company or business matches and reflects the company’s brand image. All linked in with the design of the company’s logo, website, literature and stationary as well as the ethos and beliefs of the company, it’s vitally important to bring all of a company’s copy in line with the rest of its brand. It’s no good adopting a stuffy, almost aloof style of writing when, for example, the company’s brand is fun and lighthearted, friendly and approachable. Conversely, quirky, slightly off-the-wall copy would not do for a company whose image is formal and highly professional. Mixing the two just doesn’t work – it sends mixed messages and is likely to confuse potential customers. And yet, tone of voice in copy is so often overlooked.
What to look for when deciding on tone
If you’ve been asked to write some copy for a certain company, there are a number of things you should do before you even put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
- Determine the audience – It’s crucial to pin down who the audience is. Are they customers (members of the public), suppliers (may be subject specialists), employees or members of a specific trade or profession (such as nurses, builders, teachers etc.)? For each separate audience tone of voice may differ depending on the messages you need to get across and how much they already know about the subject.
- Examine existing copy for style or tone – With an established company there is likely to be pre-existing copy that’s been written in the necessary style. Make sure you read this and break it down in your mind to ensure you can mimic the style used. If there is no existing copy (as could be the case with a brand new company) make sure you speak to the powers that be within that company to find out how the company wishes to come across and what fits in with their brand ideas.
- Know where the copy’s going – It might sound obvious but the tone, length and style of the copy (long paragraphs vs bullet points etc.) will all depend on where the copy is going to be used. Copy to be used on a piece of Direct Mail, for example, may need to be informal, teasing, quirky, while the copy for the company’s website may need to be slightly more serious (although not too far removed from the DM style) and detailed to ensure all the necessary information is available for web surfers.
Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to tone of voice in writing is remaining consistent. Don’t start out all professional and authoritative and, half way through your copy, switch to a chatty, cheeky chappy, ‘I’m your best mate’ style of writing – that’ll just make you look a little bit silly! Grasp your tone and stick with it all the way through your writing project – it’ll help your readers to build trust in the copy rather than being distracted by the ever changing landscape.
Over to you – how do you ensure you get your writing tone of voice right?