When I take on a new writing project, one of the first questions I always ask the client is, “What tone are you trying to convey?”
Half the time, I’m met with a long pause and a blank stare. So I’ll put it another way: “What impression are you trying to make? How do you want the reader to feel about you?”
Those are questions worth asking, because readers always feel something, even if it’s not completely conscious – and even if it’s not what you intended. For instance, maybe you’re trying to show that you know your stuff, but the tone comes across as pompous. Chances are, the customer will be less inclined to work with you.
To help my clients think through the issue, I developed the following checklist. The rule is, pick up to three terms describing the tone you hope to convey, and rank them in order of importance, 1-2-3. It’s an important exercise, because words, photos and design elements should all be chosen with your goals in mind.
It’s one thing to know what you’re trying to convey, but interpretation can be a funny thing. That’s why I like to use the checklist a second time to see how my message actually came across.
Try this simple test: Ask a friend to read your homepage or your latest blog post, then give her the checklist and ask her what tone she was picking up on. If you were going for “sophisticated,” but she reads it as “snarky,” then you may need to go back to the drawing board.
Go ahead, grade me
The checklist is a nice tool because many readers might otherwise have a hard time putting vague impressions into words. Feel free to use it any time you want to focus your thoughts for a new writing project or gather feedback on something you’ve already written.
What have I missed? Can you think of a term I should have included on this list? I’m always looking to improve my diagnostic tools.
Also, I’d love to take a dose of my own medicine, so please use the checklist to provide me with feedback on this post. What tone do you think I was trying to convey? I do have three items in mind, and I promise I’ll answer truthfully after I get a few guesses.
Nothing like brutal honesty, right?
Photo credit: clogsilk via flickr CC