[Copy Tip] How To MASTER Tone Of Voice

As a copywriter, my job is to connect directly with an audience using the written word. This connection is what helps drive sales, increase engagement, and push your business to the next level.

But how do you do that?

Well, by speaking their language. Frankly, this is the most important copy tip that I've ever shared: speak your audience's language. 

To do this, you need to adopt the right tone of voice. This is the biggest weapon in your copywriting arsenal. Without the right ToV for your audience, your message will fall on flat ears. 

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What is Tone of Voice?

Tone of voice encompasses a lot of things. In short, it is essentially how you say something in writing.

To be more specific, Acrolinx explains tone of voice as:

"How the character of your business comes through in your words, both written and spoken. It’s not about what you say, but rather the way that you say it, and the impression it makes on everyone who reads or hears you."

Frankly, I don't think I could find a better definition on the internet. 

We experience and use tone of voice all day every day. Whether it's in the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, or the blog posts we scan, tone is ever-present. This is because it's natural for humans to communicate with tone: it's what brings life to our conversations.

Tone is so prevalent that it has become almost background noise. In fact, we tend to only notice it in written words when there isn't a tone. Monotonous copy instantly stands out for us because it sounds like a robot speaking. 

Take this sentences, for example:

"I am a human. I must eat food. I require 8 hours of sleep. I must drink 8 glasses of water per day. Without these things I will cease functioning."

Doesn't that sound kind of weird? It feels weird to read it. There just isn't very much pizzazz. If I was presented with a paragraph of this kind of writing I would probably fall asleep out of frustration. It might as well be binary—I'll end up paying the same amount of attention to this paragraph as I will to a string of 1s and 0s. 

Monotonous texts will be the death of many amazing and interesting ideas. Frankly, this is what killed me about academia and, more specifically, political science. The field itself is supposed to be objective, evidence-based, and devoid of bias. But reading objective, fact-based, and unbiased texts is boring and confusing. As a student I would often read a piece and then at the end still have no idea what the hell the author was trying to say. 

Maybe that's just me, but I don't think so. I would challenge anyone to read a study from the International Political Science Review and walk away with a thorough understanding of what was happening. Often these texts feel completely devoid of humanity.

Humans crave stories. As social animals, we connect with narratives that we can relate to. Tone of voice is one way to enhance a story to make it better, stronger, and more exciting. 

Types of Tone in Writing

Okay, we've established that tone of voice makes our communications more human-like. Now how do we signal tone in writing?

Like anything, tone is nuanced and subtle. You can't just write "READ THIS AS IF YOU ARE HAPPY" at the top of a document. Instead, you need to signal a tone to your audience.

There are a few ways to do this. 

Word Choice

Word choice is obviously important as a writing tool. What words you use is going to vary dramatically depending on the audience that you are speaking to. If you're writing for engineers about something technical, you can assume that they know the lingo and understand what you mean when you write that something "accelerates at 4.8 meters per second" (if that's even right—I'm not an engineer). You obviously won't use that same language to explain the concept to stay-at-home-parents who have no technical background. Instead you might say that it speeds up quickly.

However, word choice also connects you to your audience by changing your tone of voice.

  • You can choose words that are more formal or more conversational. 
  • You can choose words that are more animated or more dull.
  • You can choose words that make your reader dream about the future or which explain the facts clearly and concisely. 

For example:

  • You can dazzle your audience or you can show them your act.
  • You can lift their spirits or make them happy.
  • You can leave them speechless or perform well
  • You can drink water or you can gulp it down.

See what I mean? Words at tone. 

Punctuation

Another way to add tone to your writing is to get creative with punctuation. Copywriters love to use our preconceived notions of what a punctuation mark means to our advantage.

When you read, you already associate certain punctuation marks with different ways of speaking. You've been doing it your whole life. 

As you plow along a page, you'll see a comma and take a breath. You know that parentheses provide extra information (even if it isn't useful). Dashes make words flow together, so you might read something that's hyphenated super-extra-speedy-fast. 

See what I did there? 

We learn all of these things in school, and they all add an extra bit of spice to the writing. Take time to play around with how the words LOOK on a page.

Styling

Finally, much like punctuation, the style of a word can affect tone. I'm talkin' about use of things like bold text and italics.  

Both of these can be used to your advantage. But be careful—there is a tendency to get carried away. When too many things are bolded, the impact is lost. 

Practical Tone Tips

Tone of voice is a fun and exciting way to change the feel of a written passage. To get started practicing, here are a few tips:

  1. Make it relevant to your audience: If your audience is mostly female, use feminine words and styling. If it's more men, think more masculine. Knowing your audience is crucial otherwise the tone will be off-putting rather than inviting. 
  2. When in doubt, go positive: People respond better to feeling positive and happy. Don't make people feel horrible about their buying decisions in the past. Focus on how their buying can improve in the future with your product or service. 
  3. Keep it consistent: Your tone is a reflection of your brand, and it should be consistent across all platforms. 

What do you think? Do you have any other tone tips? Leave a comment below!