Steve Connard

Tone and emphasis in business writing

There are a number of ways a writer can deftly control tone and emphasis in business communication.

Tone and Familiarity

Tone is also influenced by the level of familiarity between the writer and reader. However there is often a fine line between being friendly and over-familiar.

Consider this correspondence. The two people must be quite close colleagues because the language is casual and friendly.

Dear Bob,
Great talking to you yesterday. Love to continue the conversation next week at the Convention. Bring your golf clubs – it’s great course.

Consider now this correspondence where the language is more formal and respectful.

Dear Mr Brennan,
Further to our meeting yesterday I would be pleased to continue our conversation next week at the Convention if you are available. If you did have the time, perhaps we could even have a game of golf for believe the golf course is very good.
Kindest regards,
Steve Stills

Emphasis and Subordination

The writer can influence the reader’s perception of certain subject matter by emphasis and subordination. To emphasize an important idea, the accomplished writer will place it in a short sentence. To subordinate an idea, the writer will place it in a compound sentence.

Consider the following sentences: After much research, the new press was acquired in January 2008. It transformed the company. Management was able to increase productivity and expand its customer base by twenty percent.

The sentence that stands out due to its brevity is, "It transformed the company." This will be the most memorable sentence

Consider now these sentences.

After much research, the new press was acquired in January 2008 which transformed the company and increased productivity. The customer base grew by twenty percent." Here the last sentence is the shortest and carries most emphasis.

Placement and emphasis

The placement of critical information can affect emphasis or subordination. The subject of the writer’s first words, sentence and paragraph will receive the most emphasis. The second most emphasized word, sentence and paragraph will be the last. Subject matter in the middle paragraphs receives the least emphasis.

Consider this sentence.
"After much research, the new printing press was acquired in January 2008 which transformed the company and increased productivity. The customer base grew by twenty percent." The most memorable words are "research", then, "customer base grew by twenty percent".

One can ask how important is the word "research" to the company? What benefit does the emphasis on "research" bring to the communication? The answer is none. More important words are "increased productivity" and "customer base grew by twenty percent".

To emphasize those points a better sentence would be "Productivity was increased from the well researched acquisition of a new printing press. The customer base grew by twenty percent".

Emphasis through active and passive verbs

A writer can also use active or passive voice to influence emphasis.

Active voice emphasizes the person or thing performing an action. "The oldest employee in the company operated the new, computer controlled printing press."

Passive voice emphases object of the action. In the following sentence it is the printing press. "The new, computer controlled printing press was operated by the oldest employee in the company."

Emphasis through Repetition

A writer may use subtle repetition to emphasize a point. (This is the art of rhetoric.)

"The new printing press is a state-of-the-art, computer controlled piece of technology. However this sophisticated computer technology doesn’t require specialist skills. It can still be operated by the original staff without additional training."

The writer here has repeated "computer technology" which gives emphasis to those words and makes them more memorable.

Personalization through Perspective

Accomplished writers will always write from the reader’s perspective i.e. write in a way that shows what they can do for a reader. After all, a reader will always want to know what’s in it for them.

Compare "The printing press is so efficient it can print twice as fast as other presses", with, "The printing press is so efficient it will half your printing time".

Both sentences mean the same but the second sentence describes a more immediate benefit and uses the word "you", which is much more personal.