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Adopting the Right Style and Tone in Business Writing

September 21, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Business Writing

Adopting the Right Style and Tone in Business Writing

According to the author Scott Ober, style or tone in business writing refers to an authors’ general approach or attitude toward a recipient or reader or subject of the message being communicated. The overall tone of a written message has an impact on the reader just as tone of voice affects the listener in a face-to-face conversation. And in the modern day, this writing applies just as much to the sending emails as it does to the sending of quite long memos or reports of course.

Business writers should always consider tone before they begin writing. An individual should therefore consider the following four questions before they start:

  • For what reason am I writing this message/memo/note/document?
  • To whom am I writing?
  • What do I want him or her (or them) to understand?
  • What kind of style or tone should I use?

If you consider your reader before writing any document, you can tailor your message to reach your specific audience. The style or tone that you use directly affects how the reader will interpret what is said. 

What kind of communication tone?

When considering the type of tone to use in your written communications the following five general guidelines can be useful:

A. Be courteous and sincere.
B. Use appropriate emphasis.
C. Avoid discrimination.
D. Consider the reader’s perspective.
E. Write appropriately for your audience.

Let’s look at each of these guidelines in more detail:

A. Adopt a courteous style.

The author of a written document establishes goodwill and interpersonal connection with the reader by using a polite tone. 

Review the words and phrases you tend to use frequently in your documents and how your reader is likely to react to your language usage. If your usage is respectful, your recipient will pay more attention to your message.

For example:

B. Use appropriate emphasis.

You can help your readers to understand which of your points or ideas you believe to be most important by using particular emphasis. You can emphasize an idea including placing it in a short sentence, for example. Repetition of key points to emphasize is another way to do this, although care needs to be taken so as to not lose recipient interest.

When looking to emphasize use particular  phrases such as “key”, “most important”, or “critical” phrases such as “minor issue” or “less important” when you want to de-empathize something.

Of course using Bold, CAPITALS, underlines and different fonts can all help to emphasize a point but it can be irritating to the reader if overdone.

C. Avoid discrimination.

The effective business writer communicates in a way that expresses equality and respect for all individuals and does not discriminate (either intentionally or unintentionally). This means that every document author should ensure that his or her message is free of sexist language and free of bias based on such factors as race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, and disability.

D. Consider the reader’s perspective.

Rather than pushing out a message in a way that you might like to receive it in tone, think about your particular recipient or general audience for your written communication. This helps to make the message more readily read and accommodated when done well and is much more likely to solicit a positive response (especially when you may be asking your recipient(s) to do something for you in the message. 

E. Write appropriately for your audience.

Consider the level of understanding that your audience is likely to have about the subject about which you are writing and then prepare your message so that they fully appreciate what it is that you are trying to say. For example, when an intended audience has less knowledge about the subject that the author, avoid using complex sentences, jargon, acronyms, slang phrases or terms that the recipient(s) will not understand. Of course, this also goes in the other direction when you may have a very sophisticated audience. In this case, avoid using overly basic phases and terms and a tone that is too simplistic.


When it comes to business writing, tone is an important factor to consider. There are many different tones that can be adopted but the most important point is to ensure that it matches the needs of the audience to which the written message is directed. The above guidelines are an attempt to help you to get this match right more often in the future.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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