Week 2 - Voice and tone

This week, we talked about the differences between voice and tone and spent time editing together. Robyn Kanner also joined us to talk about her work on MyTransHealth.


Warm-up exercise

Imagine you’re hosting an event.

How would you invite:

Set a timer. Go for 7 minutes.

The exercise demonstrates how you naturally shift your tone to suit the situation. These invitations all sound like they came from you—they’re in your voice—but your tone shifts depending on what’s appropriate for the audience.

Storytelling exercise

Write about a time you did something out of character.

Go for 10 minutes.

Voice and tone basics

I love this quote from Cheryl Strayed:

“Find the work that moves you the most deeply and read it over and over again.”

She emphasizes that to be a better writer, you have to read a lot and study what you’re reading.

Your voice is your personality. It doesn’t really change much from day to day.

Your tone shifts to fit the situation and the reader’s mood. It’s how you show empathy. It comes down to the words you choose (diction) and the way you respond to the reader’s feelings.

When I’m writing, I think about someone sitting next to me, and what I would say to them in person. It helps me imagine what they might be feeling as they’re going through a particular situation or flow on a website.

People may be feeling all sorts of emotions when they read your writing. Consistency is less important here than helping the reader find what they need and showing you care.

Most of this section is straight out of my book—with thanks to my coauthor, Kate Kiefer Lee. I recommend checking out her work for MailChimp, too:


My biggest tip for editing if you can’t show your work to somebody is to read it out loud. It helps you catch clumsy words or sentences that are too long. And it immediately makes your writing more conversational.

If you’re not sure how to write something, say it aloud to yourself and record it or transcribe it with your phone. When in doubt, write things like you would say them in conversation.

We talk about editing in the second to last chapter of Nicely Said, but if you’re really curious about editing, I recommend reading The Subversive Copy Editor.

On Tuesday, we’ll write some glimmers, talk about structuring longer pieces, and spend time working on final projects.