The Tone Of Voice In Business Writing
I really like this article. It explores the wonderful world of words. Words help us to sell, to persuade, to be liked and to get on in life. Words can move audiences to action, prospects to contracts and partners to fall in love with us!
In my opinion we don’t spend enough time researching the words that are going to help us succeed.
I also like this article because it has stood the test of time, written many years ago by a chap called G. W. Freeman. It came to my attention in John Forde’s excellent newsletter.
Freeman makes some excellent points here – even if you don’t write copy as a living, these tips can be very useful for reports, job interviews, CVs and all sorts of promotional and training literature.
Enjoy! And as always, very interested in your feedback. Your advice and tips helps to make ourpresentation skills training even better!
The Tone Of Voice In Copy
By G. W. Freeman
“EASY to write, hard to read,” was declared by Robert Louis Stevenson to be an axiom of the scrivener’s art . . . and advertising writing cannot escape the laws that govern the creation of all effective copy.
Two people utter identical phrases, and one repels by his truculent gruffness, whereas the other with soft and pleasing tones, charms.
That is a matter of tone of voice.
The printed word offers few mechanical devices for indicating stress and manner, and so the advertising writer must employ words as tools for modifying stress and tone, and by his literary style develop a pleasing tone of voice in his copy.
The pictorial side gets painful thought so as to make the advertisement appeal.
And then the one element that can really appeal to the mind and to the imagination is dismissed with “Make it brief,” or “Just talk naturally.”
“Natural” copy is the hardest to write. It takes most labor, that is, if it seems natural
For most copy that is written “just like you talk” reads like nothing under heaven.
Here is a piece of copy written “naturally” by an engineer for a manufacturer of rubber belts:
“. . . the present day farmer will buy only the best, regardless of initial cost, for experience has taught him that low first costs invariably mean higher ultimate costs.”
That’s natural writing.
But does it sound as natural as this:
“Did you ever buy a likely looking scrub cow only to find that she never gave enough milk to pay for her feed? If you have, you’ve learned that low first cost does not always pay best. There are scrubs among farm belts, and there are pure-breds, and you know which kind will give you satisfaction.”
Professional rhetoricians bid us avoid “alliteration’s artful aid.”
And yet there is a valid reason why we, as copy writers, should employ it.
Alliteration formed the basis of the early poetry of our race, and that early influence is persistent.
Our forefathers, sitting through long cold evenings in their draughty halls, drank and sang in unison, eagerly beating time to the alliterative syllables of the song.
Consider this stanza from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (937 A.D.):
Her Aethelstan cynig,
eorla drighten beorna beahgifa,
and his brothor eac Eadmund Aethling,
ealdor laugne tir ge slogan aet Saecce,
Vowels alliterated with any other vowels, as in the first and third lines. See how the b’s beat through the second line, and the s’s through the fourth.
Alliteration is valuable in headlines
“Montreal or Miami, it’s all the same to a Marmon,” is more effective than “Palm Beach or Quebec, it’s all the same to a Marmon.”
The value of the alliteration is in its swing and tinkle.
But alliteration is attractive and useful only in headlines. In body text it gives an effect of insincerity.
Consider this bit of copy which appeared in a booklet issued years ago by an advertising agency: “We produce copy that causes prospects to pause, ponder and purchase.”
That not only sounds strained, it bears the earmarks of the “smart alec.”
RHYME is always to be avoided in headlines, just as every copywriter shuns accidental rhymes in the body of his text.
And yet, while rhymed headlines and rhymed text are anathema, rhymed slogans are worth their weight in platinum because they jingle around in the brain like an unforgettable tune:
“The Wilson Label Protects Your Table.”
“Read and Write by Emeralite.”
These belong right along with
“Thirty days hath September”
“Punch, brothers, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passengaire.”
And for the same good reason—we can’t forget the rhyme.
We all know that words suggest related ideas—connotation. The more pleasing the connotation, the more pleasing the effect of the word.
The classic horrible example once quoted by an otherwise intelligent advertising man was “Make the old home into a new house.” And I personally don’t believe that any advertising man, not even the boss’s younger brother, ever wrote that!
But aside from their connotation, are there any pleasing words—or unpleasing ones?
In and of themselves, pleasant or unpleasant?
THUS there is a displeasing sequence: The letters “l” and “r” are closely related in sound, and like people that are closely related, they do not get along well together.
Consider this sentence from a recent “Sunmaid Raisin” page advertisement in the Post:
“If you like delicious, wholesome, full fruited raisin bread.”
I defy anyone to read that the first time and not say, “delicious, wholesome, full fluited raisin bread,” or at least “Full fruited laisin bled.”
It’s like that classic tongue twister, “The rat ran over the roof with a lump of raw liver in its mouth.”
Discordant sounds have their use; however, for the skillful copy writer will employ them when he touches lightly on those conditions which he wishes to appear unpleasant.
Thus a Weed Chain advertisement, which described the “smug” content of the foolish driver who left his chains back in the garage.
But on the positive side of the subject, are there pleasing words?
Who does not roll such words as these under his tongue?
And as for “profit”— the greatest of these is Profit.
Closely allied to “v” is “f,” and r-p-f is almost as pleasing at r-p-v.
Consider these trade names:
See how they are charged with “r’s” and “p’s.”
Contrast these two pieces of copy —one full of “r’s” with one “f” and one “p” and the other a succession of “k” sounds:
“She will be beautiful of course in the rosy future pictured by a mother’s dream.”
“Wash your hair becomingly, always have it beautifully clean and well kept and it will add more than anything else to your attractiveness.”
Now examine this from a recent Jordon offering:
“Nimble, snug and hammock swung close to the skimming road, this fascinating car glides lightly on its way.”
Count the “s’s”.
That’s the secret of its speed and action. For “s” is the symbol of the present active verb.
It denotes action.
To speed copy use short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Words filled with s’s.
But speed isn’t always what we are after.
Sometimes a client prefers that we obtain results—and that often calls for emphasis. To give weight to any point use, a few more words.
“Every drill is inspected 50 times” may be just as true as “Every drill is inspected time and again, thoroughly, painstakingly, and must meet no less than 50 separate tests”, but it carries less weight than the longer sentence.
Don’t be obsessed by the short-word, “mania”. If you want weight, and even if you need a long word for beauty, don’t balk at a polysyllable.
Short words aren’t necessarily “good old Anglo-Saxon”. Latin has given us “mob” and “vest” and “togs”.
If you want force, I suggest that you try out a few words with initial “H”.
‘H’ is a forceful letter.
Just open your mouth and let out a “whoop” or a “holler” and you’ll see why.
The Greeks called the H-sound a “rough breathing”.
Just listen a moment to this list:
That gives us a clue to the strength that has been injected into this headline – The Blue Heart guarantees excess rope strength – “The Blue Heart” sounds stronger than the word “strength”.
So there you go! A fantastic exploration of tone of voice and some great tips on business writing that sells. If you would like to know more, you can also try Matt Drought’s e-book called Words That Sell. And give me a call if you would like to chat about helping your team explore some of these themes in a workshop.
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