What is a tone in writing? A great way to think of tone is as the voice of the written word, expressing emotion, character, volume, intonation, and the overall attitude of the message. You could say the difference between the two is that voice is what you say, your tone in email is how you say it. If you're communicating in person, there are so many visual, physical, and audio cues to observe and pick up on as you interact with somebody. This includes things like body language, hand gestures, the pace and pitch of your speech, facial expressions, and much more. All of these elements crucially add to the tone of the words you are saying.
Once this interaction switches to the written form, all of these cues fall away, and you are expressing yourself with a lot less color. As we talked through in a blog post about beginning a professional email – tone is how the character of your business comes across with your words, illustrating your emotional perspective without these other useful cues. So, why not learn as much as possible about tone in business communication and avoid any crossed wires? The more consideration you put into understanding voice and tone in an email, the better reflected and represented you'll be overall.
In this blog post, we help you grasp what tone is, show how to recognize and use all different types of tone in email and how to make sure you always express yourself as you mean to.
Why is tone important?
Expressing yourself clearly, efficiently, and politely is key to successful professional communication. When a lot of this communication is via the written word, you will need to stop and think about what type of tone you're conveying so that the recipient has a good understanding of how you're feeling. You get your message across exactly how you want it to sound.
Already you can see how tone factors into being perceived well, and actually, how being able to convey what you mean can often wholly rely on your tone of voice. In a written medium, this is no different. Yet, the written word can also be more complicated if there is any uncertainty for the reader. For example, when we are missing information, our brains often fill these gaps themselves – seldomly with positive notions. This can lead to a whole myriad of confusions and mixed messages, which nobody wants personally and professionally.
Mastering your email tone means:
- Greater trust and understanding within working environments.
- Less time wasted re-reading, reviewing, and rewording all of your email communications.
- No backpedaling over emails or having to mend fractured professional relationships.
In a business context, it is in your best interest to be understood clearly and have the right attitude coming across in your email, with zero room for confusion or misinterpretation. Such misunderstanding could result in an offended colleague, an unhappy customer, a disgruntled client or partner, or even an offended boss. The list, unfortunately, goes on, but fundamentally, the goal is to prevent any chance of conflict in the long run.
Make sure your email etiquette naturally conveys your intended tone and get up to scratch with all the different ways your voice might and can be interpreted via email – then apply it to your day-to-day work for peace of mind.
Different types of tones in writing
A professional tone in email can take much time to get right. Many people read their emails multiple times, read them out loud, or even put them aside for a short while to come back to later. Guessing how you'll be perceived is almost as frustrating as the guesswork that can go into trying to figure out someone else's tone – trying to interpret the person's emotions regarding the topic and hoping you've understood them correctly.
There are some golden rules that the writer needs to consider before they begin to write that help to determine the appropriate tone:
- Why am I writing this?
- Who am I writing this to?
- What do I want them to understand here?
The answer to all of these will give you the answer to the question that's brought you here: What kind of tone should I use?
Here's a list of different types of tones in writing to recognize in emails and help minimize the chance of misinterpretation.
- "Thanks so much"
- "No prob"
- "As Ms. Dias referred to on our previous call"
- "According to our department's research"
- "Dear Members of the Committee,"
- "How are you?"
- "Have a great weekend"
- "Hope all is well!"
- "Would love to hear your thoughts here"
- "Why don't you take the lead on this one?"
- "Great work on the presentation yesterday"
- "Tuesday and Wednesday next week post 3 pm suit me best"
- "Graph A and B work well, but the last stat in Graph C is not representative enough"
- "This is the best plan of action"
- "I'm going to draw a line under this"
- "Let's go with strategy B and take it from there"
- "I feel that with another week of lead generation, we can get this over the line"
- "As soon as we're done with the room, it's all yours"
- "Happy to help where I can"
Setting tone in email
Similar to our post on how to write a professional email, guidelines for setting your email tone follow a pretty straightforward rule of conduct. The best practices are as follows.
Be polite and sincere
Being courteous will always be a good place to start in order to set a great tone from the outset.
Use non-discriminatory language
Treating everyone as equal is a mark of respect and prevents any bias or offense from coming between the writer and reader.
Prioritize your information
Figure out the most important thing you're saying and make sure it's clearly expressed early on in the email. Ambiguity can confuse the message.
Keep the positive front and center
Similarly, emphasize the good news in your communications; it shows that you value this most before tackling anything else.
Pay attention to detail
Proofing for grammar, spelling, structure implies that you care about how this message communicates to the reader.
Mind the length
This can convey a variety of emotions to the reader. Too short can appear curt or annoyed. Too long looks unfocused and unclear – an abundance of words can sometimes bury the true meaning of a message.
Examples of tone in writing emails
With the new learnings in mind, let's look at some examples of the tone of an email. If you find yourself in the following or similar professional situations, it's key to accurately represent how you're feeling and want to be perceived. We hope these examples will further help you to understand and convey tone in business communications.
Disagreeing with a colleague
The tone of this email is interpreted as indirect, and therefore a bit insincere. What you're trying to express is being lost in flowery language and long sentences. The better way to go about it could be something like the following sample.
Frustration with not being heard
This email is an example of a very condescending tone. There is no greeting, the sentences are very blunt, and using multiple question and exclamation marks is unnecessary. Capitalizing words also conveys an angry tone that should be avoided at all costs. Take a breath, stay calm, and try a fresh but direct approach. Here's how to sound more professional while delivering the same message.
Declining an interviewee for a role on your team
The tone here is very apologetic for something that is a natural outcome in an interview process. Using this style of language conveys disproportionate sadness, and by default, guilt, which is not a great impression for the business' employer brand. This is how you could write the same email in a more professional tone. Also, check out some more tips on writing the perfect candidate rejection email here.
Updating on a challenging project
Needless to say, this is an overly negative tone. Yes, it's good to take ownership of slow progress or failures, however framing the email this way doesn't show any promise, hope or conviction that will assure management knows that the individual is capable of dealing with the situation. The email portrays a lack of confidence and a despairing feeling about the work, which should be avoided. Here's how to improve the tone and manner of communication of the same hardships.
Excitement at a sale prospect
While definitely a reason to be happy, the enthusiastic email tone here is a bit inappropriate and off-putting given the context. The prospective client may read this as amateur, unprofessional, or even desperate – has it been a while since you made a sale? Reply in a positive but measured fashion and above all, remain confident in your professional abilities in this negotiation. The appropriate tone for this email correspondence could look something like this.
Familiarising yourself with this overview and examples will work as an invaluable email tone checker. You can also use Flowrite to help you sound like you want to in your emails.
Flowrite has a tone selector that helps you always deliver the message the way you intended – you pick the tone you want your email to convey, and our AI-powered writing tool takes care of the rest. Learn more about our AI-writing tool here.