From Cold to Warm and Beyond:
Options for Tone
by Marcia Yudkin
Whatever you're writing, you
have the ability to shape the tone as well as
the content of your message. Are you
communicating with a stone face or a smile?
Are you starchy and straight-backed in your
wording or down-home and loose? Will your
reader get the impression of a fussy bureaucrat
or an earnest helper?
Cold or Warm?
Let's start with a statement
that we might find written about a financial
software program or app.
Quikmetrik enables users
to optimize and organize expenditures,
financial assets and debits.
This is cold and distant in
tone, formal and impersonal. We don't know
whether this comes from the company that makes
Quikmetrik or from an outsider observer, and its
very neutrality was probably deliberate.
The verbs and nouns are
complex, abstract, highly intellectualized.
They belong to the vocabulary of someone who has
been to college or is at least college-bound.
Obviously our sample is a written rather than a
Now let's warm it up by using everyday,
universally known words and the pronoun "you":
Manage your spending,
saving and debt with Quikmetrik's
This version makes a
connection, though not an intimate one,
with the reader. It puts forth an invitation
from one party to another, rather than a factual
statement. And because the words don't
force any higher intelligence to kick in, we no
longer feel like we're being held at arm's
We can make our example warmer still:
Are you flush or broke? On
track? Quikmetrik's money dashboard updates
you at a glance.
Here the wording is more
casual, and the passage interacts with us
through informal questions. This blurb hints
that something's at stake. It brings in feelings
about money, offering mild empathy instead of
just informing or observing. It seems to
be coming from a pal rather than from a banker,
accountant or other expert.
Now Add Enthusiasm
made the original version much friendlier, the
impression coming through is still calm rather
than excited. Let's add some positive
energy and belief:
Are you in the red or the black? Quikmetrik
is the cool, fast way to know everything
about your dough.
Now we're being addressed by
an advocate, someone who's trying to convince us
of something. "The cool, fast way" is a
bit salesy and assertive in tone, but not oppressively so.
Dial in more enthusiasm and
you get something like these three versions:
spending, saving and getting out of debt are as
easy to manage as texts and phone calls!
Imagine, no more "Uh-oh"
overdrafts or "We're over budget again"
It's the best
in-your-pocket money tool since the portable
Exclamation marks, along with explicit or
implicit praise words like "easy," "imagine" and
"best," have us picturing someone jumping up and
down while they're talking to us on the page.
When this works, the feeling being put out
On to a Nerdy Tone
though, that we're targeting scientists or
engineers, and we want a tone that particularly
puts them at ease. This variation would be
both neutral and nerdy:
Quikmetrik gives users individualized control
over the seven factors that account for 92.7% of
money management success.
We're back to distant,
abstract word choices but with numbers factored
in. Warming that up with techniques
mentioned earlier, we might get:
If you're part of the
78.2% of the population who have trouble
managing their money, Quikmetrik gives you
control over seven key financial elements.
Note that we can create a
geeky tone with vocabulary rather than with
numbers. Consider this example of a nerdy,
Quikmetric offers you the
ultimate in personal finance hacking. Don't lose
a millisecond of control - get started today!
Tone variations are undoubtedly
infinite, but let's take a look at just one
more: elegance. If we were writing for a
posh, oh-so-refined client, we
would need to signal that in our tone.
Which tweaks below make the
same message we've been working on all along
comfortable for the elite, well-off, socially
Is financial discipline
your aspiration? Quikmetrik's sophisticated
online tools give you backstage, discreet
management of your assets and encumbrances.
For an upper-crust flavor,
long euphemistic words (such as "encumbrances"
rather than "debt") work well as long as they
are mellifluous - smoothly flowing and pleasant
to the ear. It's even better when the
words chosen imply delicacy ("backstage,"
"discreet") and social graces ("aspiration" and
Which Tone is Best?
Of course, which tone to
choose depends on the audience you're aiming at
in the promotional or informational piece at
hand. Also relevant is how you want the
reader to perceive the company or individual
behind the message. With your choice of
words, sentence structure and attitudes
underlying how you put it all together, tone is
yours to control.
Become a tone virtuoso by
practicing cool, warm, enthusiastic, nerdy and
elegant versions of your own starting statement,
then going on to tones like air-head,
authoritative, compassionate, spiritual, snobby,
sports-crazed and more.
Copyright 2016 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.
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