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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Direct and Indirect Language

It is as difficult to hear how we sound to others as it is to see ourselves as others see us.

I run into that sometimes with students who have a tone of voice in their work that is off-putting, sometimes screeching, sometimes angry, vehement, overbearing and unintentionally rude.  Insecurity often masquerades as arrogance on the page.

It is difficult to explain how someone sounds to him or herself, for if the news is surprising, the person who needs to hear it simply can't.

When I am trying to help a student recognize a problem with tone, I begin by recommending two stances in writing that fit different purpose-driven documents.

Good news can take the tone of direct language.  It can be heard like this:  Congratulations. You won.  Here's the good news.  Wait.  There's more. 

See how the sentences are strong and punchy.  Because the content is positive, direct language can be used this way.

Bad news can't.

Even news that is simply less than good can't.

Bad news needs indirect language to achieve a more pleasing tone.

Indirect language sounds like this:  What a good effort you made on that latest project.  However....
It was wonderful meeting you, but......Thank you for the invitation; unfortunately........

Bad news needs a softener at the beginning.  It thrives on a warm good bye. 

After delivering bad news, you can thank the person, wish the person well, say the sun will come out tomorrow.

The tone of your voice will match the indirect language, and you, as the voice of that bad news, will leave a kinder echo in the listener's ears.

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