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Finding the right tone in Emails.

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Once you can structure an email in English it is important to think a bit about how emails can convey tone. Just the same as how variations in our tone of voice affect the way our message comes across, our choice of words in emails massively impacts how the email is read and understood. How would you feel receiving the email below;

If I received this I'd be pretty offended to be honest... so we need to avoid making the same mistakes... So let’s start by looking at a couple of general rules related to correctly using tone in emails that we will then apply to some practice exercises:


1) Start with being clear about why you are writing something, and what you want the person to understand;

  • If you are giving some constructive feedback to somebody, then you ultimately want the person to change their work positively – choose positive proactive language, equally, If you are making a complaint and want a certain outcome, then focus on clarity and directness.


2) Use softened language to make requests/ delegate;

  • Not: "Please send it to me by the end of the week".

  • But: "It would be excellent if you could you send me the document by the end of the week".

  • Not: "I want to know when you will deliver the item".

  • But: "Could you let me know when delivery will likely take place".


3) Use a passive sentence to avoid using unnecessary information;

  • Not: "Dave in the finance department will send a copy of your pay slip out this week".

  • But: "A copy of your pay slip will be sent out this week".


4) Avoid blaming people directly; passive sentences can be useful here...

  • Not: "because you didn’t submit the tax return in time we have lost money".

  • But: "Unfortunately, the late return of the tax form has caused us to lose some money".


5) Try to frame negative sentences neutrally;

  • Not: "The third paragraph makes absolutely no sense to me".

  • But: "It’s difficult to understand what exactly you mean in the third paragraph".


Or, try to frame negative expressions positively;

  • Not: "The report needs completely re-writing".

  • But: "What would turn this into a really good piece of work is if you re-structured paragraphs 1-14 to include the information…. "


6) Be aware of which part of an action you focus on;

  • Not: "I will start to write the report on Wednesday, it will be finished around two days later"

  • But: "The report will be finished by the end of the week".


7) Be aware of the balance between a personal view and an organizational requirement;

  • Not: "This makes no sense and is an embarrassment to our company".

  • But: "Unfortunately, the current draft of the document isn’t in line with company standards and would need to be revised before being used".


8) Avoid gendered language and use their/they instead of masculine pronouns;

  • Not: "a repairman".

  • But: "a repairperson".

  • Not: "each worker will be given his own computer and desk".

  • But: "each worker will be given their own computer and desk".

9) Avoid the following expressions;

  • "friendly reminder". (this never comes across as friendly).

  • "FYI". (sounds too passive aggressive).

  • "as per my last email" (this patronisingly makes it sound as if you are having to repeat the same information again).


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Exercises: try drafting the following emails with the correct use of tone. Remember to read the emails out loud to ‘hear’ the tone they communicate.

  1. You need to inform a client that a project will not be completed on time due to an error that your colleague made.

  2. You need to remind a colleague for the third time that they have not yet sent you a document that you need before you can carry on with your work.

  3. You need to let somebody recently interviewed know that they performed badly in the interview and you can’t hire them.

  4. You need to speak to a colleague about some discriminatory remarks that they had made in a recent team meeting, they need to be made aware that the remarks are not acceptable.

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