Have you ever written something you thought was concise and direct only to be told that your message seemed abrupt or rude?
If you have, the length of your message may not actually be the problem. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: concise writing matters. The truth is that most people appreciate when someone gets to the point quickly. Instead, what may have irked your reader was your tone—that is, your style or manner of writing. Although it’s often overlooked, tone can dramatically influence how you’re perceived.
Choosing the right tone is hard. That’s because different tones are appropriate for different situations. For example, you probably shouldn’t use the same tone when expressing condolences as you do when texting your friend about where to get tacos.
When writing, many of us intuitively add extra words in an effort to soften our tone and make our message more appealing. When editing for conciseness, we often remove these words—and that’s okay. You can still sound warm and conversational without cramming your sentences full of unnecessary words.
Here are some tips to help you master the art of using the fewest possible words to convey an idea without inadvertently offending your reader.
1 Identify your message
Whether you’re writing an email, tweet, or blog post, nailing down your message—the essence of what you’re trying to say—is absolutely critical. Consider your reader and think about how much context they might need.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to say, it’ll be much easier to focus on how you want to say it.
2 Eliminate extra words
Once you’ve got your message and jotted some words down, it’s time to tighten things up. Eliminate redundant words, strengthen weak adjectives, and remove vague nouns. Stumped about where to start? Grammarly offers conciseness checks to help you identify what to cut.
Let’s say you need to write an apology. Here’s an example of how to eliminate extra words while taking tone into account:
Concise: I’m so sorry for the last minute request. I’ll make sure I loop you in earlier on future projects.
Although you could cut even more words here, the edited message still conveys regret without being excessively wordy. Striking the right balance between the two can be tricky, and it’s okay to err on the side of saying slightly more if you’re concerned your message may be too abrupt.
3 Assess your tone
When it comes to identifying the best tone to use in a specific situation, a good rule of thumb is to consider the emotional state of your reader. Are they relieved to be finishing a long work week? Are they confused and looking for advice? Once you have a sense of what they’re likely experiencing, you can adjust your tone accordingly.
Read your message aloud and pay attention to places where it sounds curt or awkward. This can also help you identify areas where you could adjust your punctuation. Exclamation marks, for example, can help infuse energy into your writing if you’re particularly excited about or proud of something.
Using positive language rather than negative language also helps you sound warmer. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like “can’t,” and “don’t.” For example:
Positive: To get a free bagel, stand in this line.
Even though both sentences convey the same message, the latter is much more encouraging. It’s also shorter!
Whether your reader is someone you work with on a regular basis or a much broader audience, getting to the point quickly while striking the right tone is a fantastic way to both avoid inadvertent abruptness and capture—and hold—your reader’s interest.