Creating High-Value Communications

Appropriate Tone

In writing, tone is defined as the author’s attitude or emotion toward the subject and the reader.

Learning Objectives

State the factors that determine appropriate tone in business writing

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In business writing, using the appropriate tone ensures that the message is communicated properly. Even the most positive message can be misunderstood if the tone is not correct.
  • Answering these questions will help you determine the tone of your communication: What is the purpose of the communication? Who is the audience? What should the audience learn? What actions should the audience take from the communication?
  • Most business correspondence is written in the formal tone.
  • Accurate interpretation of messages is made easier when nonverbal and verbal communication complement each other.

Key Terms

  • tone: The manner in which speech or writing is expressed.
  • subordination: The quality of being properly obedient to a superior (as a superior officer).

Appropriate Tone

In writing, tone is defined as the author’s attitude or emotion toward the subject and the reader. While this might only seem appropriate for writers of literature, business writers also need to be concerned about tone. In business writing, using the appropriate tone ensures that the message is communicated properly. Even the most positive message can be misunderstood if the tone is not correct. Answering the following questions will help you determine the tone of your communication, whether it be a letter, memo, or proposal:

  • What is the purpose of the communication?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What should the audience learn?
  • What actions should the audience take from the communication?

Formal and Informal Tone

Most business correspondence is written in the formal tone. The exception is internal email communications between coworkers. Even then prudence must be taken, as an email to a supervisor requires a more formal tone than one to a coworker requesting a lunch date. A piece of correspondence written in the formal tone contains the proper subordination, is free from discriminatory language, and contains no slang or text speak. Remember, the overall tone for any business writing is confident, courteous, and sincere. It is important to avoid writing that is overly formal; don’t use long phrases such as “in the event that” when a simple “If” will do.

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Appropriate Tone: Most business writing, with the exception of interoffice emails, is written with a formal tone.

Tone and Negative Messages

If the purpose of the correspondence is to deliver a negative message, it is especially important to consider tone. In a negative message, it is best to use a gracious and sincere tone. Try to avoid using the active voice when delivering negative messages.

Using Formatting for Visual Flow

In business writing, the formatting of a document should add to the reader’s ease of understanding.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the benefits of formatting visuals in business communications

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Common formatting guidelines for business writing include using clear headers, including charts and graphs, and using color to emphasize important information.
  • Visuals are commonly used in business settings; they aid in running effective meetings and communicating complex information.
  • When using presentation software to create visual presentations, keeping text minimal and visuals clear is particularly important.
  • Use color for clarity and emphasis, not for decoration.
  • Use bullet points or create lists to organize material. Make sure this is “nice” to look at (easy to read).
  • Keep paragraphs short and to the point, ensuring that sentences contain complete thoughts.

Key Terms

  • PowerPoint: An electronic slide presentation.
  • visual: All the visual elements of a multi-media presentation or entertainment, usually in contrast with normal text or audio.

In business writing, how the message is presented is just as important as the message itself. The goal is to produce a well-formatted document that presents all the information in a concise and easy to read manner. The formatting of a document should never make a document more confusing, but rather add to the reader’s ease of understanding.

General guidelines for formatting documents

Labeling

  • Use headlines and sub-headlines in large font
  • Bold, italicize, or CAPITALIZE important information
  • Use bullet points or create lists to organize material; make sure this is “nice” to look at (easy to read)

Charts and Graphs

  • Make sure there is clear information presented and that it supports your point; color coordinate charts/graphs if necessary.
  • Use text to support/explain charts and graphs (be brief but cover the high points)
  • Avoid charts and graphs that can be misleading to your readers

Wording and Lettering

  • Limit number of fonts to one or two
  • Think about the age of your audience when setting font size and type

Color

  • Use color for clarity and emphasis, not for decoration
  • Keep a similar color scheme throughout the entire document
  • Consider using contrasting colors to highlight main points

Formatting visuals

Visual documents are commonly used in business settings. A study done by the Wharton School of Business showed that the use of visuals reduced meeting times by 28 percent. Another study found that audiences believe presenters who use visuals are more professional and credible than presenters who merely speak. And still other research indicates that meetings and presentations reinforced with visuals help participants reach decisions and consensus in less time. A presentation program such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, OpenOffice.org Impress or Prezi, is often used to generate the presentation content. Modern internet based presentation software, such as the presentation application in Google Docs and SlideRocket also allow presentations to be developed collaboratively by geographically separate collaborators.

The following are formatting guidelines specific to using PowerPoint or similar presentation software:

  • Do not write out the entire presentation on your PowerPoint; instead, create bullet points and headings no longer than three to five words that give the main points
  • Include no more than five to seven lines per slide; better to split information onto two slides than it is to cram too much information onto one
  • Be consistent with your “theme” (do not use a different theme for each slide)
  • Do not overuse flashy transitions; they are meant to enhance your presentation, not take over
  • Be careful with your color scheme; again, this is meant to enhance your presentation
  • Make sure that the text is big enough for the audience to read
  • Do not use complicated or unreadable font
  • Use a font color that stands out against the background
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Visual Flow: Clear formatting can help make a business document easy to read