Chapter 4: Writing Effective Routine and Positive Messages

Voice and Tone in Email Communication

Learning Objective

  1. To identify tone of voice used in email correspondence.

Tone of Voice

Tone of voice can be conveyed in two different voices.  An authoritative voice is one in which the writer of the content creates a tone in which they purport their level of knowledge of the subject matter and the means in which they do so is their authoritative voice.  A casual voice is one in which the writer does not exert a level of authority over the reader and uses language that is easily understood by the reader and therefore may be less complex.  The use of less traditional forms such as the use of clip-art, design elements, and stylistic variances may be used.  This tone may give the appearance of being less firm, more indirect, and have an overall feel of a lesser level of urgency.

In regards to emails, the idea is that upon reading of the content, the reader hears the email aloud.  In order to do so, a voice is given to the writer of the email.  When reading an email, the reader may give a male or female voice to the writer, and may assign a voice that is authoritative or casual, for example.  The idea is to decide the message you want to get across, who your audience is, and how you would like to present that information.  The tone you use may need to change depending on any of those factors.  You may choose to make adaptations in order to most effectively catapult others into action.  Determine what you want a reader to understand, and adapt your tone accordingly to convey the content of the message.

Methods for Using Your Voice

Methods for conveying an authoritative voice may include the use of justified or centered text.  The use of this method signifies for the reader to take head to the particular text that stands out from the rest of the message.  In addition to justified or centered text, the use of stylistic cues such as boldface, underlining, and italic typeset draw a reader’s attention to ideas and concepts which should be weighted on a level that is not equal to the other information.  Figure 20.5.1 demonstrates variation of the same words being you, to reflect tone, therefore potentially having very different meanings applied by the reader.

Example 1:

YOU MUST respond to this email with your agenda by FRIDAY


Example 2:

You must respond, to this email, with your agenda, by Friday


Example 3:

You MUST respond to THIS email with your agenda by Friday


Example 4:

You must respond to this email with your agenda by Friday

According to DeKay (2010, p. 114), “Pragmatic functions are used to structure information by arranging contents in such a manner that readers will be able to organize meaning in a coherent manner.”  Upon the reading of an email, whether it is written using an authoritative voice or casual voice, is less important than if it meets the expectations of the reader.  Using an authoritative voice upon teaching or disseminating information will be received more readily by a reader if they were intending to hear the information from an expert or authority figure on the subject matter.

A casual voice can be depicted through the use of text that appears less traditional, may include clip art or other similar visual cues.  Urgency to respond or need for follow up is not conveyed with a casual tone.  As displayed in Figure 20.5.2, a use of synonyms is displayed which portrays the idea that the same words can be used to convey a very different message.  The use of language is a powerful tool in conveying an idea or concept and has influence on the tone portrayed.

Table 4.2. Casual and Formal Word Choices

It is important to keep in mind the context in which a message is being sent, and the overall content that the sender is intending to submit.  The number and level of responses to emails will be dependent upon the clarity of the subject matter, the accepted use of language, and tone of voice used.

Tactic to Use in Creating Emails

If you feel as if you always come across to others in a negative light via email, one tactic to use when addressing your tone of voice is to employ the “T.W.O.-P.A.R.T” strategy, developed by Tami McCoy, co-author of this chapter. The strategy is simply this:

  • First, write the email, but do not send it.  Then,
  • Employ the strategy which stands for and involves:
    • T=think
    • W=words
    • O=over
    • P=plan
    • A=and
    • R=revise
    • T=thoughtfully

The idea is, to act first and put the words onto the computer screen.  Next, as a leader, you must step back and evaluate and put yourself in place of the primary audience, or your follower, and check the message for tone.  An author of anything, including an email, rarely discovers perfection in the outcome on the first attempt.  It takes practice, just as does developing skill in a sport, or learning to like new foods.  It has to be done more than once before habit forms.

What is Gained by Utilization of the “T.W.O-P.A.R.T” Strategy

In the process of thinking the words over, planning, and revising thoughtfully, chances are one might adapt language according to necessary revisions to display politeness.  According to Ruiz (1997), we express our creative power through our words.  “The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate” (Ruiz, 2010, p. 26).  The words that you express have the ability to captivate an audience and to move them into action.  If those words are not carefully, thoughtfully, and strategically used, the outcome may not be as intended.  Writing and writing differently than you may be accustomed to takes a level of creativity.  “Creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you” (Kelley, T. and Kelley, D., 2013, p. 2).  Communication requires confidence in your abilities, and your ability to change as necessary, becoming fluid with your audience.

Communication Arsenal

Two weapons in your communication arsenal that have favorable influence upon tone of voice in emails are empathy and politeness.  According to Kelley & Kelley (2013) inspiration is drawn out of people through connecting with their needs and desires.  When you know your audience and speak to them in a tone that they can interpret as positive, you can make a stronger connection than you would if the reader feels your message is negative and insincere.  “Connecting with the needs, desires, and motivations of real people” (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 22) will foster an empathetic environment that seeks to relate to the reader, and will allow a writer to connect with the primary audience on a deeper level.  This is an important tool to keep in mind when responding to email as well.

Relatability to an audience carries a distinct voice of its own, separate from authoritative or casual.  An empathetic tone has a factor that outlines relatability and believability in a way that is distinct from other tones.  Readers want to connect on a deeper level in order for the transmitted information to resonate with them.

While being cognizant of tone of voice when constructing emails, it is important to keep in mind the use of strategies.  Communication is used to convey ideas, and the overall goal is to implement strategies that resonate with a reader.  As leaders, we need to explore ways to reach our intended audience and cause individuals to spring to action.  This may entail framing the voice used to fit an audience, deciding terminology and language used to discuss ideas, and developing a relationship in which a reader feels safe to question the information contained in the communication for further clarification.  Depending on the call to action, a reader may become less or more inclined to act, based on the method in which the message is transmitted.  Therefore, judgment calls are necessary when considering the individuals involved. (Bennis and Goldsmith, 2010 p. 182)

Key Takeaway

  1. Tone of voice sets the stage for how a reader receives the intended message.


  1. Construct an email containing a message using an authoritative voice.
  2. Construct an email containing a message using a casual voice.
  3. Construct one of the emails you created for exercise 1 or 2 utilizing an empathetic approach.
  4. Read an email that you have received recently at work that was sent to you.  Then re-read the message and develop a hypothesis of the tone the message has.

Bennis, W.; Goldsmith, J. (2010).  Learning to lead.  A workbook on becoming a leader.  New York, New York: Basic Books.

DeKay, S. H. (2010). Designing email messages for corporate readers: A case study of effective and ineffective rhetorical strategies at a fortune 100 company. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(1), 109-119. doi:10.1177/1080569909358103

Kelley, T.; Kelley, D. (2013).  Creative confidence.  United States: Crown Business.

Ruiz, D. (1997).  The four agreements.  San Rafael, California: Amber-Allen Publishing.


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