A tribute to tone in writing

Talk about upbeat! The Oct 3, 2011 issue of Woman’s World magazine featured a tiny article titled “The Upside of Allergies!” that explains how people who get “rashes, itching or other such skin woes from touching certain materials, such as nickel or perfumed detergent” may be less likely to develop some kinds of cancer, like breast and skin cancer. I guess avoiding cancer is a really shiny silver lining around a rashy cloud.

This small segment of writing is a glimpse into the overall tone of the entire publication. It’s punchy and kicky like a super-happy pom-pom. Other headlines squeal “You Need More Chocolate!” and “Slim Down with doughnuts!” and my personal favorite, “Protect Your Heart with cheese!”

There’s a general myth that travels around offices, whispered from cubicle to cubicle, that “email doesn’t have tone.” It’s one of those warnings you get at a workshop promising to help you email your way to the top, but it’s misguided. Of course email has tone. Writing has tone. Some writers are just better at elucidating their tone than others. The folks at Woman’s World magazine have laser-focus on a perpetually upbeat, can-do, eat sweets and feel great tone.

At a recent business development workshop at the Center for Women’s Entrepenuership at Chatham Universtiy, I was assigned to read this segment on the Rapid Growth stage of the business lifecycle.

“In the rapid growth stage, the business outpaces industry growth rates…This stage is very risky since many resources are dedicated to the business but there is no guarantee of continued success. …Some entrepreneurs decide to sell their businesses…some find their businesses have outgrown their skills because they are unable to cope with the increasingly complex management and growth challenges.”

Did you have an emotional reaction to that abbreviated passage? I felt stressed, nervous, doubtful and anxious, and it wasn’t even my business. The tone was gloomy, foreboding and negative. All in all, the writer did a great job of using words of warning to convey the chaotic and uncertain atmosphere of this stage of business.

Two excellent examples of tone, from two widely divergent kinds of writing, but both accomplishing their task. I tip my pen cap to both writers, whomever they are.