tone of voiceImagine an email to your best friend telling them what you did last weekend. Now imagine a letter to a prospective client telling them why your service means you stand head and shoulders above the competition. What did you imagine? The email was probably informal, slangy, friendly, direct and fun. You may have been a bit lax with punctuation. Perhaps you used lots of exclamation marks, and a few smiley faces. You just wrote without getting too hung up on the details. And the letter? You probably stiffened in your seat even as you imagined it. Perhaps you used the phrases ‘we pride ourselves on…’ or ‘it is our firm belief.’ You may even have described yourself as ‘we’, even if it’s just you. And you may have used some long words because they sound more… More what? More businesslike? More formal? Or more distant, cold, and impersonal? Next time you write a piece of business communication, try these tips. They’ll help you create a more friendly ‘register’ – the word linguists use to describe levels of language.

Active, not passive

Don’t say your order will be delivered, say we’ll deliver your order. Don’t say you’ll be contacted by our customer-service department, say our customer-service department will contact you. See the difference? The active voice (we will deliver) creates a direct link with the reader. The passive voice (will be delivered) puts distance between you and the reader Which would you prefer?

Short, not long

If you want to sound customer-friendly, use short words and sentences. In English, we’re lucky to have the choice between words with Anglo-Saxon roots (ask, send, put) and Latin roots (request, transmit, place). In almost every instance, Anglo-Saxon words are more informal. So instead of saying we request your presence imminently, say we’d like to see you soon. Here’s a great tip: write as you speak. If you wouldn’t say it when talking to somebody, don’t say it when you write. If you find it difficult to work out whether you’d say it when talking, try reading what you’ve written aloud. You’ll soon see whether it sounds natural or not.

Use contractions

Don’t say we shall be in contact, say we’ll be in contact. Or better still, dust off your Anglo-Saxon and say we’ll be in touch. Try contractions (I’ll, you’re, he’s, they’re, it’s) whenever you can. It radically changes the tone of a piece, instantly making it sound less formal. A word of warning, though: when you use contractions, watch out for the it’s/its trap. Remember, it’s means it is, but its means of it. Now let’s rewrite that letter…