Tone and Communication

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In face-to-face communication, meaning is conveyed not only through words but also through tone of voice and body language (facial expressions, hand gestures, etc.). As a result, listeners pay more attention to our tone and body language than to our word choices in order to derive additional clues to our meaning.

Challenges of Online Communication

One of the challenges of communicating online is that we must depend entirely on words to convey meaning. For example, we do not have the opportunity to reinforce our intention to be positive and encouraging with a smile or a nod. Without the accompanying tone or body language, people can misconstrue the meaning of the message. Consequently, written communicators need to carefully choose their words to avoid any negativity or misunderstanding. A careless joke can flop, or an offhand comment can come back to haunt us.

Visual Enhancements in Written Communication

Written communication does not allow for visual cues (such as raised eyebrows to denote surprise) or verbal cues (such as voice inflections to denote emphasis). However, this medium does allow for a unique dynamic: the ability to convey tone through writing. The words we choose, the format in which we present them, and visual enhancements - such as italics, color, font size, and emoticons :-) all convey the tone of messages.

The Importance of Tone in Written Communication

Tone in writing provides the reader with an indication of how the writer feels about the subject matter, as well as about the audience. In online communication, it is necessary for our tone to be professional and direct, yet natural and unforced. We want others to know that we have given thoughtful consideration to the subject matter. We also want the tone to come across as open and welcoming of further comments and responses from our colleagues. Below are some tips to consider when writing messages for the online environment:

Keep the intended audience in mind....
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