The Writer’s Catwalk: 8 tips for improving your style and tone

Good style and tone can have a dramatic effect on your copy.

Voice, style and tone are to writers as fabric, stitches and scissors are to clothing designers. And, like them, we’re also slaves to fashion – the fashion of language.

Defining the materials

Tone: The feeling or sound of your writing e.g. polite, irreverent or friendly

Style: The way in which a piece is written – based on word choices, grammar and language

Working the catwalk

It’s important to be aware of the style and tone you’re using in your writing so that you can adjust it to fit different types of copy. Use these 8 tips to help you craft your communications:


1. Define your audience

Know who you’re writing to. The style and tone you use to communicate with a CEO will be different to those you’d use in an email to a colleague.

2. Informal vs. formal

Once you’ve identified your audience, adjust the level of formality to match. The goal is to make sure you don’t alienate the reader. If you’re too casual with the CEO, it will seem disrespectful. But formality in colleague communications may seem pompous.

3. Business writing baseline

Regardless of the audience you’re communicating with, aim for a tone that is confident, positive, courteous and conversational. Business writing isn’t as formal as it used to be.

4. Straight talking

Be direct in all your communications. (Note: Being direct isn’t the same as being blunt.) People are busy, so be economical by getting straight to your central message.


5. Keep it simple

The longer your sentences are, the more difficult they are to understand. Plus, they dilute your message. The same applies to paragraphs. Note: Each idea gets a new paragraph.

6. Active voice to create action

Knowing the difference between active and passive voice is tricky. Prevention, though, is better than cure; write in active voice. Always. Here’s how: Build your sentence so that the person/thing carrying out the action is at the beginning.

Example: (Active) The model fell flat on her face. (Passive) A fall was taken by the model.

7. It’s not you; it’s the company

Remember that you’re only not writing as you – you’re writing as your company as well.

8. Bullets and numbers

Use lists whenever it’s possible. They’re easy to read, summarise your message and shorten your communication.