Writing With Purpose: Identifying The Tone

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In this second post of the series, I’m going to move on from the audience and look closer at establishing the tone used for any written content produced. This sounds easy, and in theory it should be – if you were writing in your own voice – but it can be very difficult and can be one of the longest processes in any project.

The biggest problem you will encounter here is a difference of opinion. You’ve done the research and got a feel for the audience and potential audiences you are going to be writing for, and that will give you some idea of how you want to write especially if you’ve taken into account the client’s website and previous material. It can all go wrong from here though.

Understanding your client and their needs

Following on from last time, keeping in constant contact with your client is important. They have to be happy with what you’re doing or you’ll lose them to someone else. You might disagree at times but you have to remember one thing:

You are a writer, and that’s your field of expertise but the client is hiring you and they know their industry much better. That’s the golden rule, regardless of what you think.

As such, the client will always be right. Now, if you have objections and suggestions, do raise them and show what you’ve done so far, on this project and others, and back up your suggestions with evidence. That can win them over, or at least let you try it your way but always be prepared to fall back to their plans, ideas and needs. Again, this is their project and if you don’t do it their way, they’ll find someone who will.

The more contact you have with the client and the more drafts you send them will help you hammer out any problems or differences productively. This will keep you on the project and they’ll be happy with the effort you’re putting in and the end result further down the line.

Drafting and redrafting

Tedious? Sometimes. Important? Absolutely.

At this stage, it doesn’t actually matter what you’re writing about – I usually pick something general like an “about us” section of their website. What you’re doing here is trying to get the tone right, getting the right language level and any other factors that need to be considered.

As a writer, I do this a lot anyway. Working with a client for a period of time, you get to know what they want and what will work best and find the best balance of that. Writing personally, every character, story, poem, blog and article will have a different tone depending on who is going to be reading it. It’s a skill you develop early, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect on the first time.

It’s important not to be offended if things need changing – and often, you’ll need to figure out those changes for yourself. Comments can range from incredibly specific and helpful to vague and unsure. It’s your responsibility to figure it out and produce as many redrafts as needed. Don’t lose them; they’ll often provide insight further down the line as you continue working with that client or in that industry.

 Referring to the audience

At every redraft, you need to keep in mind the feedback from the client and what you’ve learned about the audience as well. If you have the extra time and access to a user group of this audience, make use of it as well, as it will give you plenty more feedback that allows you to refine your efforts until you’ve got it nailed.

Hopefully, it won’t take too long but if it does, accept the fact that once you’ve got the sign off and approval of the client (and sometimes the audience), it’ll cause you less problems later on when you’re doing a lot more writing for them. It’s worth getting it out of the way now so you can be confident in what you have to do later.

Next time, I’ll look at researching the subject of the product, which takes us one step close to actual writing. Already, you can get an idea of how much work is involved on every project and with every client!

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