Monday, January 25, 2016

The Issue of Tone


I had a situation recently where I texted someone an important bit of news. This news would have been better received had I delivered it by phone or in person, but due to extenuating circumstances at the time, a text was necessary.

This reminded me of the aspects of modern communication that I dislike. With texts, email, and social media you can't always interpret the sender's tone. It's difficult to judge inflection and genuine sentiment. A message might sound aloof, unkind, or impatient, even though that isn't the author's intent. 

It also, of course, causes me to consider the role tone plays in our writing. What is tone? One definition says it is how it feels, sounds, and/or is interpreted. Tone can take shape through word choice, sentence structure, and a writer's attitude and style. A writer’s tone can be sarcastic, serious, funny, sad, and so on. I believe that tone also plays a role in a writer’s voice. 
  
Writing gives us an opportunity to employ an appropriate, reader friendly tone. We may not always directly consider tone during the process, but it does factor into the mix. Our words, whether informal conversation or published work, send an impression to others. The revision process can help us assume the correct tone.

With that in mind, I do the following before submitting:

  • Consider the audience and publication.
  • Get input from from critique partners.
  • Read it aloud. The ear is a great editor, catching things the eyes miss.
 
Regarding texts, emails, and social media, it is impossible to convey our intended tone 100% of the time, no matter how many emojis we use. So I've adopted an informal policy, "tone insurance", if you will. Some of the same points above apply.
 
  • I don't respond to emotional questions or issues in haste. If it potentially stirs my emotions, I wait and pray until I'm sure to respond rationally.
  • I read my response aloud because I want to hear how it might sound to the recipient. It also slows down the process which allows me grace and space as I consider my reply. 
  • I get a second opinion from someone who offers an outside and fresh perspective.
 
While not foolproof, these simple steps have polished my work and helped keep my foot out of my mouth. Can anyone relate? 
:)

What steps do you take to ensure proper writing tone? How do you think others perceive your writing tone?

Happy writing,
Karen

22 comments :

  1. Those are great ways to handle emotional texts and e-mails, especially to wait until you're ready to respond.

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  2. Hi Karen - so difficult to text appropriately .. I find. I do it if it's straight forward ... and yes keeping foot out of mouth - essential! I try and be polite, answer the questions, reply as soon as I can or at least acknowledge, and that tends to set the tone for subsequent conversations ... as you say think first .. cheers Hilary

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  3. "Allows me grace and space" what a wonderful line and way to handle the situation instead of knee jerk reactions. This was a thought provoking post.

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  4. I hold off responding if I can, so I too can gauge the tone. It also allows me time to craft the right response (I hope).

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  5. That is the downside to communication without voice or presence - it loses a bit of meaning.
    And yes, I've learned not to respond right away. I'd rather say something with a clear head.

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  6. Great post, Karen. Your tips are so helpful. Sometimes texting makes me feel so old! I learned from my teen daughter that if you end a text with a period (rather than leaving it without punctuation) then it creates a negative tone; it supposedly means you're frustrated or unhappy. (Question marks, exclamation points are ok.) I can't keep up! lol

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  7. Natalie,
    Thank you. It can be tricky, can't it? To avoid sticking a foot in the mouth is a good thing! :)

    Hilary,
    Yes, essential, I agree! That's a good point as far as sending a simple response to be polite till you can respond further and better. Helps to facilitate a good relationship!

    Linda,
    Thanks so much. I need a lot of grace and space too! Lol I think it carries into our writing lives too. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen


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  8. Holly,
    Time really helps, doesn't it? Most of the time anyway! :)

    Alex,
    So true! Even though we work with words all the time we still need to take care. :)

    Susie,
    Thank you, glad it was helpful! Now see, I didn't know that texting thing, so that's a help. :) Just about when we get it figured out, right? Lol

    Happy writing,
    Karen



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  9. Hi Karen! I can totally relate to the tone on texts. I've been burned more than once texting something fairly innocuous, but was interpreted as negative. I think waiting to respond is a GREAT thing to do. And assuming the best, not the worst in the information and tone.

    I really try not to have a tone of superiority, or being in a 'teacher mode'. It's harder than it might seem. No one wants to read someone who is impressed with themselves. I try to keep that in mind!
    Monday blessings,
    Ceil

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  10. Those emoticons that are so annoying do speed up the tone in fb and text messages. I'll use them if I want to be sure I'm not misinterpreted when I try to be funny. So often that can come off as insensitive or rude.

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  11. I reread before I send anything. I'll use an emoticon to lighten things up. I haven't received any ambiguous texts or maybe I'm just so used to them, or used to the sender.

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  12. Ceil,
    Texts can be a tricky thing, can't they? :) Live and learn, for sure. There is so much value in waiting to respond. It almost never hurts to delay a bit, I'm thinking. Avoiding the teacher mode - yes, I sometimes wonder how I come off - don't want to do that either!

    Lee,
    They do speed things up, I agree, but sometimes they can be, okay, downright annoying. (There, I said it! LOL) But in the big picture, it's a minor thing. :)

    Medeia,
    I reread as well- to the point of getting crazy about it sometimes. But if it prevents a misunderstanding it certainly is worth it! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  13. I see what you're saying, amigo. I usually reread to make sure I didn't misunderstand something. I try to call if I need someone to know I care. But life is so busy. I use emoticons sparingly. I usually do a *wink* or something like that. I do use the smiley ones, though. The tech world is so challenging. And so impersonal. Love you. XOXOXOXOXOXOXO

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  14. I heard an acronym recently-WAIT. Why AM I Talking? I think I might apply it to texting too...Why Am I Texting? Initially emotional reactions have so many variables they can be wrong, and considering 93% of communication is non-verbal, we do have to be very careful of how we convey our messages. The fun part about writing stories is we can use description, setting to convey tone, tools we don't generally write in a text though!

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  15. Robyn,
    Yes, life is busy, and sometimes quick communication is necessary, albeit less personal. Even when we reread, we can't guarantee that the recipient will get what we are really saying. Ah well, we do our best! Love you too! xo :)

    Lynn,
    That is an excellent acronym! Need to spread that around on social media! :) Yes, I think we have the advantage of better tone and all that when we write our stories and articles, etc. Always learning something, aren't we?

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  16. I like your ideas for "tone insurance," Karen, especially the one about emotional responses. I've dashed off an emotional reply, then regretted it later, and had to go back and try to "fix" the mess I made. Kind of like putting toothpaste back in the tube!

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  17. And that's why I think writing to music is such a great idea. If you're listening to the tone of music you want to portray, chances are your writing will convey the same mood.

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  18. Jen,
    Yes avoiding having to fix those messes, that's the plan! :) You're right, putting toothpaste back in the tube is really tricky.

    Crystal,
    Now there's an excellent idea. Music really can be an asset to our writing! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  19. Oh I love Jeanette's description of trying to put toothpaste back in the tube- Fantastic! I can relate to that. My mum was one for instant responses. It has taught me that I need to take time- to let the subject matter have time to land, evolve and find the right spot. Our instant world seeks instant answers, they just don't need to be instantaneously delivered. I am a work in progress. Slowing down with my reactions more and more often.

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  20. I try to promise myself that I will read over every single text before I click send. 99.7% of the time that's exactly what I do. But even then I miss things. Such a sad feeling knowing I can't pull it back in and make the adjustments.

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  21. Anita,
    I love Jen's definition too! Very clever. :) I agree, we don't need to respond instantly to almost anything, despite the pressure the world puts on us.

    Joylene,
    You're right, there are some things we cannot take back. Better to side with the slow, quieter approach, right?

    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  22. This is great advice! In today's day and age it is so important to stop before we respond. Sometimes we think we are reading a message with one tone, when really we may be reading into it or misreading. When I get an email that seems offensive I wait and try to go back and read it in a happy upbeat tone. :) That makes it easier for me to reply back diplomatically. Thanks for sharing these tips!
    ~Jess

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Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input. Have a blessed day!