Ever feel like you have something to say but just don’t quite know how to say it? The tone of whatever you are writing should be able to do a lot of that work for you. When you are writing something for the professional realm it should feel approachable, authentic and authoritative. It shouldn’t be over-bearing, stale or unsure. In short, the tone should be well-balanced. Written communication should feel natural. It should be easily read and possess a certain rhythm. On the spectrum between sounding like a thesaurus and sounding like you are on the phone with your best pal, you should aim to be about in the middle, equidistant from either extreme.
It’s tempting to think that by right-clicking and adding a big word from the thesaurus function on Word, your proposal, email or update to your social media will sound more professional. Wrong. If you riddle your work with words that are outside the verbiage familiar to your audience, then you run the risk of coming off sounding like a know-it-all. And no one likes a know-it-all. Don’t over think it. Using words that are unnaturally obscure makes the message ring as inauthentic and leaves it susceptible to an easy dismissal. The tone needs to be appropriate to the subject and the piece.
You have to be accessible and you have to be engaging. Engaging should not be read as informal. Informality and slang should generally be avoided. If you are too conversational it appears as though you aren’t taking the subject at hand seriously. This includes punctuation. Nothing screams I don’t care like a squiggly red line under something you just took time to craft. Care about your work and care your message. If you don’t take your subject seriously, your audience is doubtful to take it seriously either. There is such a thing as being conversational while being professional.
Narrow in on what you want to say and who you want to say it to, and your tone should evolve naturally. The tone should be consistent and carry your reader through to the end. It’s all about balance—find it and own it.