Shirley's Articles / Email Essentials

Touch Up Your Tone

You alter your tone of voice to convey messages in different ways. Much of what you say is also interpreted through non-verbal clues – eye contact, gestures, inflections of the voice, etc.

This type of reading between the lines is not possible with the written word. Therefore it is vitally important to choose your words carefully. You can be firm or friendly, persuasive or conciliatory – it depends on the impression you wish to convey. It is important to try to get the tone right, because using the wrong tone could cause real offence to your reader.

Tone means the emotional context of your message, the degree of formality or informality you use in your writing, and your attitude towards the topic. Good writers in business learn to choose their words carefully!

When writing in business analyse these four important factors and adopt an appropriate tone that reflects them all:

  • your status
  • the status of the reader
  • the content of the message
  • your relationship with the reader

Here are some examples of good and bad tone:

Before After
You failed to send your order to us before the new prices were introduced. Unfortunately your order arrived after the new prices were introduced.
Problems of this type are quite common with this cheaper model. Next time I suggest you spend a bit more money. Problems of this type are far less common with the more advanced model.
This problem would not have happened if you had connected the wires properly in the first place. This problem may be resolved by connecting the wires as shown in the handbook.
Your computers guarantee has expired so you will have to pay for it to be repaired. Unfortunately your computers guarantee has ended, so I am sorry that you must bear the cost of any repairs.
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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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