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What Is Tone in Writing?

Reading Time: 3 minutes
brightly colored paper fanned out

“I foamed—I raved—I swore. I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder!”

Is your heart rate picking up a bit? If not, maybe we should read more of this excerpt from The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.

“Almighty God! No, no. They heard! They suspected! They knew! They were making a mockery of my horror! This I thought and this I think. But anything was better than this agony!”

How do you feel now?

Whatever you write—whether a suspense-filled novel or web content for your business website— should evoke emotion from your audience. This is where tone comes in when writing.

What Is Tone in Writing?

In our last blog post, What Is Voice in Writing?, we defined voice and its importance in your website copy. While your brand’s voice is your company’s personality, your tone is how you approach your content mixed with how you want your audience to feel as they read.

For example, here at CCS, we use a conversational tone with a sprinkle of humor and a dash of empathy. Why? We want to meet you right where you are while being as informative as possible. Plus, we really like having fun (cue all the GIFs, especially Disney ones… and Friends… and, well, you get the idea).

So, here’s the question you need to answer:

How do you want your audience to feel when encountering your content?

  • Informed?
  • Warm?
  • Inspired?
  • Angry?

You may not want to spook your audience like good old Mr. Poe (or maybe you do) but you’ll want your audience to feel something. Define THAT and you’ll start to see your tone take shape.

How to Define Your Brand’s Unique Tone

First, it’s important to note that your tone may change slightly depending on the type of content you’re writing. For example, a how-to blog post will differ from a social media post. But the overarching tone for your brand should remain consistent.

Here are some tips for defining your own unique tone.

Consider Your Audience

Different audiences will want to be spoken to in different ways. For example, you wouldn’t speak to Generation Z the same way you speak to Baby Boomers.

Consider your audience, research how they prefer to be spoken to and create a tone that delivers.

Know Your Purpose

What’s the overarching purpose behind your content? This will depend on the type of business you own, your mission and your values. For example, if you’re an attorney with a practice focused on child custody who simply wants to make the process easier for the family, your tone may be comforting yet professional.

Consider what you want to achieve in your business and for your customers, then create a tone that fits.

Select Your Adjectives

You’ll need to decide how you want to communicate your tone to others in your business, like employees or freelancers. This will help keep your content consistent, regardless of who’s writing it.

Create a list of 3-5 adjectives that describe your tone. For example:

  • Formal or casual?
  • Funny or serious?
  • Verbose or concise?

To help you see how it all comes together, here are how other businesses describe their unique tone:

  • MailChimp: “MailChimp’s tone is usually informal, but it’s always more important to be clear than entertaining…MailChimp has a sense of humor, so feel free to be funny when it’s appropriate and when it comes naturally to you.”
  • Microsoft: “Talking to our customers in a way that’s warm and relaxed, crisp and clear, and ready to lend a hand reflects our commitment to empowering people to achieve more.”
  • Buffer:Buffer’s tone varies, based on the situation. We let empathy inform our tone. By default—and whenever appropriate—Buffer’s tone is friendly and positive.”

Your Brand’s Tone Attracts Your Ideal Audience

One of the most important reasons you want to pinpoint your tone is to attract your ideal audience or those who need you the most. If you’re struggling, we’re here to help! Reach out to our team by sending us a message.

Erin Larson