Does tone really matter?


I recently took a class on writing technical documentation. While I enjoy writing as a hobby, I had never given a lot of thought to some of the technical aspects of writing until I completed some of the assignments in this class. In the following months, I began to study technical writing more, and tried to see how it might apply to other forms of writing, such as blog posts. I was really interested in how the tone of a story or article might affect readers. During my research, I came across this from the Google Technical Documentation Guide:

> Aim, in your documents, for a voice and tone that’s conversational, friendly, and respectful without being overly colloquial or frivolous; a voice that’s casual and natural and approachable, not pedantic or pushy. Try to sound like a knowledgeable friend who understands what the developer wants to do.
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> Don’t try to write exactly the way you speak; you probably speak more colloquially and verbosely than you should write, at least for developer documentation. But aim for a conversational tone rather than a formal one.
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> Don’t try to be super-entertaining, but also don’t aim for super-dry. Be human, let your personality show, be memorable; you can even be a little funny now and then. But remember that the primary purpose of the document is to provide information to someone who’s looking for it.
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> Remember that many readers are not native speakers of English, and that many of them come from cultures different from yours, and that your document may be translated into other languages.

I completely agree with this, and have tried to achieve similar tones in both my technical documentation, as well as my blog posts. My question is, as a writer, is tone something you focus on while writing? And if so, what are your thoughts on it?
As a reader, is tone something you notice in a story? And if so, how does it affect how you read or feel about a story?


Great guidelines! This could be one reason their docs seem to be improving by 10x lately.

Style and tone are so important. This is one reason the Hacker Noon editorial process has been great so far. We embrace personality. I’ve seen other publications suck the life out of content with poor editing.


I agree! I think you see that a lot in other companies too, where the documentation is overly stuffy. Sometimes I feel like I need documentation to understand the documentation. Haha. But yeah, I think Hacker Noon really does a great job of letting the personalities of individual writers in tact through the tone they bring to their stories. Tone is really valuable, but it often seems like it can be easily overlooked.


I absolutely focus on tone when I’m writing. Whatever I write tends to have a “natural tone”, a tone that comes through whether I try or not, such that my current mood and frame of mind influence my writing. I’ve been trying to shake this.

It hasn’t been an issue, yet, but I’d like to be able to control the tone more than I can right now. I can control it with certain words, sentence structure, and so on, but it doesn’t feel like enough, like I’m at the mercy of this “natural tone” that comes through anyway. I’m sure this is a common problem. I think I just need to practice writing more often. :wink:

Tone definitely affects how I feel about a story. The tone might be condescending, and make me want to stop reading. Maybe the tone is super dry, and it’s a chore to read. Or maybe, in rare instances, the tone has a touch of magic and I can’t stop reading. :slight_smile:


I don’t think there is a “perfect” tone for technical posts. Just like fictional books, a variety of styles can coexist.

For example, you could have a sarcastic sounding piece about a particular framework/tool that the author hates. The language can amplify the message here.

Or perhaps a more “excited” sounding post about a new framework/tool, filled with colorful emojis. I know I would be more likely to check out whatever the author is discussing if he/she conveys a genuine sense of excitement.

It would be quite boring if every technical post on the internet used a uniformly “natural” tone.


I very much agree with this. That’s why our editorial process can’t strip everything down and make it the same.


Absolutely agreed! That’s why I’m trying to shake this habit. :smile: What I meant by a “natural tone” was that I have a tone that comes through regardless of my effort, not that this tone is the “ideal” or “perfect” tone for any technical post. Far from it!


I completely agree as well! By nature, I like to crack jokes and be fairly lighthearted, so even in my technical writing, I tend to use a little more humor and take a non-serious approach. However, sometimes I have found that particular stories really need a different tone than the one I usually write in. I wrote a story once about solving a math based algorithm. And I figured that the people who would be interested in this story would probably prefer a more straight forward approach. I remembered this guy in school who was a huge math whiz. He and I had talked on occasion, so as I wrote the story, I sort of imagined that I was carrying on a conversation with him. This really helped me change my tone to what I thought was better for the story.

I think sometimes the difficulty I face is knowing what kind of tone to shoot for in each story. I still don’t know if I made the right assumptions in deciding on the tone for the story in that example. But it seemed right at the time.

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