I thought of that when I was experiencing the mixed pleasures of a long comment thread yesterday, and thought of it again as I read a reflective piece by Bruce: Tone. I haven’t mastered it yet.
My tone with other people that is. I keep coming off as offensive when I have no such intent.
Apparently when I’m mulling something over, I make this face that scares the crap out of some people.
“Oh no, I’ve done something wrong!”, I’ve had nervously said to me , to which I’ve responded “um, no?”, before having to assure them I’m not angry with them I’m just thinking about something they’ve said. This went on repeatedly with a lady for whom I only have respect and not a hint of disapproval.
People who have seen me actually angry still think that I’m angry when I’m just being critical…
I am not sure I have mastered tone either, but I am well aware of how important it is and how difficult it is to master. It helps to imagine your reader, to try to anticipate how they might read what you have written and to write accordingly. Not always easy, I admit, and I can think of numerous occasions I have got my tone badly wrong, and other occasions, of course, when readers have got my tone wrong.
Thus, while I was impressed with the following schema recently posted by AV, I think it underrates the significance of tone.
Hierarchy of arguments
If one’s tone is badly wrong one can turn off readers, no matter how relevant, interesting, or absolutely correct one’s point of view might be. I think we react to tone far more than to almost any other aspect of an argument — but then I may be overstating my case… 😉 What do you think?
Here is a typical writing guide on the subject. Don’t be put off by the “in Business Writing” part of the title there; it has wider application, not least to blog entries.
“Tone in writing refers to the writer’s attitude toward the reader and the subject of the message. The overall tone of a written message affects the reader just as one’s tone of voice affects the listener in everyday exchanges” (Ober 88).
Are there any bloggers whose tone you admire? What makes them so admirable? Are there any whose tone is such that you never read them again, or dismiss whatever they might say? Do you react to tone, or is it something that doesn’t affect your judgement?
The more ticklish a subject the greater the problems of tone may be. That is why I admire Marcellous in his latest post Operation Centurion which deals with one of the more prickly issues of our time here in Australia.
There are those who, in the wake of the collapse of the pursuit of Bill Henson (in the courts, for the time being, at least) have pointed to Operation Centurion as the sort of thing which the police should be doing, rather than wasting their time “tramping through art galleries” (to coin Malcolm Turnbull’s phrase).
I would not be so ready as they seem to be to accept all the claims police are making for this operation. There is a lot of hype and also a lot of panic. Below is Tom Allard’s story in the SMH, with my comments and the odd emphasis added:
Child porn web broken by 70 arrests
Date: June 5 2008
Do read on. Today’s news, that “child protection advocate Hetty Johnston is moving south to tackle Sin City head on”, following the collapse of the Bill Henson crusade she initiated, adds to the piquancy of Marcellous’s post.
Jim Belshaw, coincidentally, has also been mulling over a related issue: Sunday Essay – Mark Steyn, the law and the future of blogging. Related, that is, to the fact that blogging is a form of publishing, not to the content of any other posts mentioned here. And now Thomas has written a long reflective post too!