5 Steps to Captivating Readers with Your Secret Message

image of a young boy pretending to be a secret agent

Every time you publish a blog post or send a message to your email marketing list, your readers learn from you.

But they may be learning something entirely different from what you think.

Your headline might say “10 Tips for Amazing Azaleas” or “How to Change a Tire in 7 Minutes.” And your readers will get some information on that topic from your post.

But readers get more than they bargained for every time they read your content — they’re unconsciously getting an underlying secret message in addition to the more obvious how-to tips.

Each bit of content you write gives your readers a message about who you are.

It’s a hidden message … your headline isn’t “Here’s What I Want You to Know About Me.”

(At least I hope it isn’t.)

But every message in your content marketing is an opportunity to tell readers what you’re about — to convey your personality, your passions, your expertise, and your attitude.

More important, it communicates how all of those things are going to benefit your readers and customers.

Connecting with readers and helping them get to know and trust you is the primary reason for content marketing. You’re hoping when people read your work, they will want to take an action that brings them closer to you — to buy your products or services, subscribe to your blog, tell all their friends about you, or maybe want to collaborate with you.

That’s your secret message. It’s the undertone that permeates everything you write.

If you’re not aware of your tone, you may be sending unintended messages to your readers. Fortunately, it’s not hard to analyze and adjust your tone until it gives off the vibe you want.

Tone problems

Here are a few common tone problems I’ve found on various blogs:

  • Schizophrenic — You’re mad as hell in one blog post, then try to be a rational authority in the next, and crack jokes in the following post. Your tone is all over the place. Result: Readers are confused and not sure which one is the real you. They’re not coming back for more.
  • Annoyingly formal — You sign your blog posts with your full name (including middle initial), company name, street address, and phone number, like you’re addressing a letter to the IRS. You use words such as “moreover” or “therefore.” Your sentences are five lines long. You’re blogging, but your head seems planted in 1897.
  • Speaking in tongues — Every third word you use is industry jargon or an abbreviation, which you never explain. Unless I’m your exact same flavor of tech dork, I’m not reading you.
  • Too cute — You’re using five exclamation points at the end of every sentence, and lots of all-caps and bolding. This makes your blog look like a note you passed to your best friend in high school. You could be an expert in nuclear physics, but with this tone, no one is going to take you seriously.

Tonal mistakes drive away the readers you’re trying to reach. Setting a consistent tone that invites readers in — because it fits both your personality and your blog topic — helps build your audience.

Here are two strategies for decoding and changing your secret message:

Decoder ring for your current tone

The first step to crafting your ideal undertone is to map what your tone is now. To do this, take several of your recent blog posts and extract all the adjectives and descriptive nouns from them. Look at them as a group. These words go a long way toward setting your tone.

Applying this exercise to my own recent blogs, I get a string of words like intuitive, strong, start, great, fearless, raves, “no biggie,” terrific.

Together, these help create the tone I want — empowering and positive about moving up to better-paying writing. My word choice keeps the tone informal and accessible.

If you have a list that repeatedly turns up words like: moron, freaking, weirdo, asinine … you’ve got a pretty rude, snarky tone going on. Maybe snarky works for you and that’s how you want to be known. But if it isn’t, you’ll want to change it.

By the way, if during this exercise you spot a lot of words like: somewhat, not sure, possibly, maybe, and kind of, you’re killing your authority, no matter what tone you’re trying for. Your unintentional secret message is that you’re a giant wimp. Just strike them out and say what you mean.

Decoder ring for setting your future tone

When I work with small-business clients on their blogs, we always do a short exercise before I write any posts. I ask them to describe, in five adjectives, the message they want readers to get about their company.

Maybe your company is smart, personable, efficient, collaborative, and customer-focused. (I could see web improvement expert Sherice Jacob using these terms.)

Maybe it’s irreverent, industry-leading, groundbreaking, innovative, and snarky. (This sounds more like Outspoken Media.)

Or maybe you’re goofy, funny, results-oriented, challenging, and passionate. (Sounds like Johnny B. Truant to me.)

If you can boil your essence down to five words, you can use them as a quick guideline when you’re writing blog posts.

It has an added bonus too: if you have a team blogging at your company or organization, it can help the blog maintain a consistent tone among multiple authors.

It’s usually a fairly easy exercise to do. You know, in your gut, who you want to be on your blog. Or you know your market’s core values. In my experience, it doesn’t usually take more than five or ten minutes to nail down the words that best describe the impression you want to make.

Once you’ve set your compass for the tone you want, implement it in all future blog posts.

Make a habit of reading each post one last time, just for the tone. Adjust any off-kilter words that express personality traits at odds with your five defining words.

Grabbing readers with an edgy tone

There’s nothing wrong with getting audacious, silly, or sexy with your tone — if it’s who you are, it draws readers, and helps your blog accomplish its goals. Actually, pushing the tonal envelope can be a great way to set yourself apart in the blogosphere.

For instance, over on the funny, frank site Toy With Me (their tag line is “nothing risqué, nothing gained”), the bloggers write just like they’re talking to their best girlfriends on the phone. Toy With Me’s sexually explicit, ultra-casual, confessional tone would be the death of many blogs, but for that blog, it’s a perfect fit.

This tone works for them because the site is all about sex toys (which they promote) and sexuality in general. There’s more to the tone, but I’m keeping it G-rated here.

Contrast this with the attitude over at the blog for the popular email marketing firm MailChimp. This company takes its tone from their chimp mascot, putting out messages that they’re frisky, easygoing, fun, friendly, and fast-moving. They’ve positioned the company as a small-business alternative to the industry leaders, so they say things like “Whew!” or discuss their new app, which they’ve named “Chimpadeedoo.”

For a small business that might be intimidated by a bigger, more “professional”-seeming email provider, MailChimp is sending signals with their word choices that they’re a friendlier sort of place. But their tone may also put off the corporate client looking for what they see as a “serious” provider.

Working with a creative or edgy tone can be a tricky tightrope to walk. It’s easy to fall off that tightrope into off-putting crudeness or embarrassing goofiness. Make sure your tone works for the specific customer you’re working to attract.

How about you?

What five words sum up your blog’s secret message? Leave a comment describing the tone you’re going for on your blog. Be sure to include a link to your blog in that field for “Website,” so your fellow commenters can see if your self-description matches what we think your secret message is.

About the Author: Carol Tice strives to be accessible, authoritative, friendly, helpful, and engaging on her Make a Living Writing blog, which was recently named one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Be sure to grab a copy of her free report, 40 Ways to Market Your Writing.

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Comments

  1. Carol:

    I like this post on tone. It has a different slang then the usual Copyblogger posts. Not that there is anything wrong with talking about copywriting, storytelling, or the usual Copyblogger topics.

    Here’s what I got from online Cliff notes defining tone: According to the Literary Terms & Poetry Glossary, tone is “the manner in which an author expresses his or her attitude; the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. Tone is described by adjectives, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Often a single adjective will not be enough, and tone may change from chapter to chapter or even line to line. Tone is the result of allusion, diction, figurative language, imagery, irony, symbol, syntax, style, and so on.”

    Thanks for some great insights into applying tone to blog posts.

    Randy

    • Randy,

      For me tone simply means, “your attitude towards life.” Whatever you have within, you bring out and share.

    • It was a departure from normal copyblogger slang, but a good one. It certainly got me thinking. If you are not confident about what you are writing to your readers, it’ll come through. That’s what I got.

  2. Great post, Carol, and great food for thought.

    It’s one of those “shoemakers goes barefoot” things – I give advice like this to clients all the time, but I hadn’t thought to check our own site for tone.

    I’m thinking that the tone at Firepole Marketing is “robust”, “friendly”, “accessible”, “entertaining”, and “collaborative” – but we’ll have to ask around to see how it reads to our customers!

    Thanks again, Carol!

    • Love Firepole Marketing Danny and I also like that you have extended those terms into a real marketing message and brand (tone).

      • Thanks, Shane! We’ve tried to keep the tone pretty consistent across sales collaterals, blog posts, and the free video lessons on the blog (and our course), but sometimes it’s hard to tell about your own stuff – you see it so many times that you become blind to it. :)

    • I just visited your website and I love Firepole. I think “robust” is a fitting description of your website.

  3. Carol –

    Good food for thought here. I love the focus on tone because it nearly goes hand in hand with your brand – actually I would say it is an extension of your brand….and it’s very important to stay consistent with that tone so readers don’t get thrown too far “off message”.

  4. I’d like to say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the word “therefore,” especially while cracking a joke. ;)

  5. I recently asked my blog readers to post comments on what they wanted me to do and I realized that they kinda “know” me already. Anyway’s, what you said here is totally true. People also get to know you are by reading your blog posts which is why you have to be careful with what you say and how you say it.

    In my case, I usually blog with my “natural” tone.

    - Mike

  6. This is such an interesting idea but I never gave it much thought! My tone changes with my mood, for sure.

    BUT I think different topics can demand different tones – giving serious advice in order to help people (you hope)? Then you’re going to be feeling earnest, so your tone will be earnest. No point being all jokey if you want people to take on board a more serious message.

    That said, no matter what the subject matter, you should maintain an approachable and human voice, and that can involve humour.

  7. Copyblogger is asking readers to talk about themselves! Anybody not commenting today has a broken decoder!

    Creative Copy Challenge – Creative, Challenging, Community Spirit, Clever, Charismatic

  8. This is funny! You’re totally on Carol with the “tone problems,” especially the Schizophrenic writer! I totally see this everywhere! << Cute little exclamation. I do have a couple of messages that probably register in the unconscious processes of people's brains. Further (ha!), since my blog has a lot to do with the mental elements of blogging and marketing, I think it fits well. THEREFORE, here are my five things! LOL

    1. Psychology – I write about how psychology relates to marketing and blogging.

    2. Unconscious Processes – I want my readers to know that there are processes firing off in their readers and customer's brains.

    3. High Quality Data – Secret… not sure. I want them to consciously understand the quality in the data!

    4. Experiments – The way the template is designed and how I talk about things I've "tried," give the feeling of experiments. I want them to feel like we're all in lab coats. (or straight jackets)

    5. Course! I have a course with videos, audios and an E-book on my blog that goes into tactics and psychology. I absolutely want them to check out the course!

    ;) <<< !! Awesome post.

    • Ryan –

      I think those are your overt topics…but what are your underlying tonal messages? You want them to buy your courses because you are…what kind of person? You don’t want the fact that you sell courses to register unconsciously, but consciously, right?

      You can tell you’re not there yet because when you try to put it into a sentence about who you are, it doesn’t work. You’re psychology, unconscious problems, high-quality data, experiments and courses? Based on what you offer on your site, it sounds like maybe you’re sophisticated, open (in sharing your experiments), unique (high quality secret data)…I’d love to see you try this again and tease out your more subliminal messages.

  9. Well, it looks like my “secret identity” has already been revealed :)

  10. I really like today’s post. At group blog, Faith, Friends, and Frappuccinos http://www.faithchats.blogspot.com
    we just made a check list for everyone to use when writing their posts to ensure our theme/tone was consistent. Glad to see we were on the right track.

    I’d say our five words are, faith, inspiration, self-evaluation, happiness, and contentment.

    Thanks for a great blog. I’ve really gotten some great tips on things to try.

    Melissa

  11. “Unless I’m your exact same flavor of tech dork, I’m not reading you.” Haha, good one!

    Very revealing post. Where can I buy me one of your sweet decoder rings?

    Joe :D

  12. Marshall Adler :

    I don’t have a blog but I am a copywriter and a content marketer and this blog post was very insightful. I never considered my tone and that which I am putting across to my customers. In my niche I provide sales and marketing systems and leads to Realtors and Brokers, more on the “home buying” side of things and I use the Internet explicitly to generate leads and create effective marketing solutions. I would say that my five items are; Professional, Results-Oriented, Creative, Tactful and Effective.

    I can’t post the website just yet as my team and I are making some final edits to our new site so it’s coming soon!

  13. My blog is new too. I’m working on really developing my content and writing.

    What I’m going for is helpful, informative, knowledgeable, encouraging, and determined.

    I’m sure as I continue, those may change a bit, but that’s what they are now.

    Thanks for the great article! Copyblogger is ALWAYS full of valuable info!

    • Five words to describe the tone of my blog: Passionate, sincere, respectful, inciteful and loving.

      I hope so, anyway.

      Peace,
      Beth

  14. I am definitely using the Too Cute tone in my blog post as well as email list. People consider me as a soft person and I like to be one because in real life I am more or less a rogue. This Too Cute Tone is bringing me some good results right now, but if I see any change in the conversion then I will switch to other ones.

    • I get “too cute” at times too. I don’t give a damn. :) But it’s great to have Brian to balance out my pink haired sparkley kumbaya ra-ra side — I think it allows more people to form a connection with the blog, going on to making a connection with the business.

  15. Wow! I found this article fantastic. I’ve been blogging for a little over a year, but hadn’t thought about my “secret message in that way at all. I’ve been guilty of some of the obvious mistakes you listed in the past and have corrected them, but this is a totally new way to think about my posts! Thank so much. Off now to review recent posts for any unwanted undertones….

    Lily

  16. I struggle with tone more than anything as I was taught to write very professionally (ie cold and dry) in college and I have this “great” habit of conforming to the stereotypical rols I think I am supposed to play. It’s annoying.

    That being said, I’m doing my best to be more conversational and personal in my tone on the newest blog I’m about to launch later this month (click my name if you want a super-early peek, it’s linked there).

    Picking 5 adjectives is hard and will require more thought, but the first ones that come to mind are helpful, casual, authentic, slightly dorky, and authoritative. I’m more afraid of coming across as dry, boring, sterile, simple, or old-school salesman-like (now there’s an adjective for you!)

    Any comments on how I’m doing so far with tone would be great. And thanks for the “decoder” – that’s a seriously fabulous tip and I appreciate it much! :)

    • Hi Jamie –

      The magic that happens is once you tune into thinking about tone, when you use a word or phrase that has the tone you’re trying to avoid, you almost hear an audible ‘clang’ of dissonance in your head. “That phrase is just too dry!” And then you change it.

  17. Curious, Insightful, Balanced, Seasoned, Practical…that’s my ideal five words anyway. It’s a great idea to have this list and check each post and consider these words as kind of a ‘customer promise’…how well does this post live up to the promise?

    Now I think my additional opportunity is to identify those five adjectives that I fear the most as possible reactions to my blog and ask myself how I’m doing on that list as well.

    Thanks for a great post. Very useful.

  18. Carol, your blog is indeed accessible, authoritative, friendly, helpful and engaging. Your headings to describe five different kinds of blog writers are hilarious.Thank you for asking us to describe the tone of our blog. I have been so focused on the content of my diaries that I hadn’t thought about the tone they convey.

    Here’s what I came up with:

    poignant, insightful, historical, accurate, informative

  19. While my blog is extremely new (can’t wait to dive into copybloggin summit this weekend!!) I really try to stay focused on who i am and what kind of personality i bring to my blog. I think that I have portrayed “me” well. Just hope to capture more readers with my charming personality!

    My posts seem to be: Fun – Witty – Educational – Clever – Visional

    Cheers!
    g

  20. This article was a rope for me to climb out of the pit of word hell. The pit of my own making, unfortunately. Amazing simple tool that gets to the core. I wrote down the five adjectives for my blog – Joy in Recovery.

    1. Honest
    2. Open
    3. Funny
    4. Naval gazing
    5. Vulnerable

    Those were the first five. But once I got going I couldn’t quit. The next five revealed more of the flaws in my writing or maybe I was just getting honest with what is there – not what, ” I would like to be there.”

    6. Schizophrenic – this comes out all over the place. Who’s reading this? What are they going to think? Will they like me? Will they lock me up? Should I change this?
    7. Spastic – You mean this was supposed to make sense?
    8. Card carrying member of the pity party club. “Woe is me, I had another bad day at the office. “
    9. ADD – My goal for today is to change the goal I had for yesterday.
    10. Confused. As in, “I’m open to everyone’s advice on how to run my life.” . . . Psychiatric help 5 cents.”

    After I looked at that list I decided the secret message I must be sending is “Doc, we got a live one here.”

    I’m not sure how to change it – but taking a good look at it helps.

    Thanks so much for the tool to self diagnose my blog. I’m bookmarking this and coming back in a few weeks to read this again and retake the test.

    • Self-awareness is good. :)

      There are so many bloggers who never get to any consciousness about this stuff, so this is great that you’re looking at it. I think taking time to reflect is a great idea.

  21. Great post Carol! I would add “Full of crap” to your list of tone problems for anyone whose commonly used words are “easy” and “money”.

    I think one of Johnny B. Truant’s words is anything ending in “-inator”.

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Especially the part about tone (Speaking in Tongues). Too funny.

    I think recently I suffered from a bout of schizophrenia on one of my blogs but I caught myself and cut it out!

  23. I loved this post. I actually wrote a blog post a while back about finding my online voice. I was having a problem writing a little too formally. As Jamie said above, I was writing more like a college paper and less conversationally. I’m doing better although it was a concentrated effort getting there. I like your “decoder” exercise. I’ll try that and see if it helps me.

    My tone? I’m a middle-aged, southern woman who has only been in IM for a little over 2 years. My audience is, for the most part, very new to IM as well. My tagline on my blog is Internet Marketing with Heart, and that is the tone I want to convey. Kind of nurturing, we’re in this together and I won’t lie to you. Formal doesn’t work well with that.

    • Funny…I thought you meant Instant Messaging there for a few lines. Glad you eventually defined your term!

      This is exactly what I’m talking about under Speaking in Tongues. Nearly everyone who works in a niche industry is susceptible to speaking their industry’s jargon on the assumption that every reader knows what it is. But we don’t.

      I try to write every blog post as if readers have never been on my site before (which my analytics tells me 50% of them haven’t, each month), and know nothing about what I do. It’s worth taking a minute to spell out acronyms to avoid alienating some readers.

  24. It’s no secret people who understand tone are masters in their niche. I enjoyed your thoughts on tone confusion, as at times we all use a blog, twitter to vent. Do you think that there is room to be human while maintaining that edge people are looking for? It would get pretty old to run all of my thoughts through a filter to make sure I’m sending the right message out.

    Enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing!

    • Well…I think we all vary our tone from time to time, depending on what we’re writing about. The thing to stay conscious of is you are always sending a message about who you are. You want that to be…what you want it to be, and not something else.

      I don’t really think about tone issues while I’m writing…but one quick scan when I’m done might cause a few word tweaks to happen.

      I certainly hope there’s room to be human — I hope my tone conveys that I’m a person!

      It’s not about turning content development into a robotic process or anything, but about bringing up to the conscious level the tone you’re expressing, so you can make it what you want. If your tonal goal is to be relatable and human, you’ll do that with it.

  25. Great post Carol. Thank you.

  26. Great tonal concept – so here goes -

    http://www.getphysicaltoday.com

    active, energizing, insightful, healthy, moving

  27. Okay–I’ll bite. Seems like a great exercise. Here are 5 adjectives that I *want* my blog to convey:

    1. God-honoring
    2. Encouraging
    3. Faith-building
    4. Delighting in God
    5. Truth-based

    But does it? At least I’ll have this measuring stick now to compare it with.

    Thanks for the advice! Love your blog.

  28. Excellent recommendations … thanks so much!

    The initial 5 adjectives for my Social Media and Search Engine Marketing company would be:
    1. Results-Oriented
    2. Client-Focused
    3. Collaborative
    4. Effective
    5. High-Quality

    All my future communications will support these adjectives … thanks again!

    Best,
    Christine Hueber

    • I think people are getting kind of cheat-y with all these hyphenations…really, try to boil it down to five single words.

      Truthful.
      Practical.
      Responsive.

      It’ll stick in your head better and be easier to use in keeping your tone consistent.

  29. Very simple exercise Carol but resulting in high octane revelations too. It’s all too easy to let the tone drift over time and let emotions seep into the writing so a great tool to check the adjectives and subliminal message oozing from the pen. We may not know we’re saying it but readers know they’re picking it up. Love the discipline here.

  30. Hi Carol, Brilliantly useful post from you as always! I’ve just checked my blog ‘Offbeat Woman’ and I’d love to think that the following 5 words best describe my tone:

    1. Quirky 2. Empowering 3. Inspirational 4. Wise 5. Positive

    Congrats on your first 1000 subscribers on your email list…not to mention a tonne more on your RSS. Well done…your blog is insanely useful!
    Thanks again Carol

  31. This was a very informative post. It pointed out quite a few things that I really need to be watching when I make my own blog posts. Thank You very much.

  32. Ouch! I just did your exercise with my two most recent posts. On the plus side, I’m using some power-packed descriptors like

    Exciting
    exhilarating
    paralyzing
    excited
    boldly
    easy
    totally
    future
    completely new
    perfect
    jumping-off point
    total immersion adventure
    quickly
    practical reality
    exploratory
    freaked out
    unfamiliar
    Suddenly
    language learning
    roadmap
    reams
    blueprint
    step-by-step information
    guidance
    overseas
    very next step

    On the minus side — gulp — I’m a wishy-washy wimp with no authority.

    might
    sometimes
    usually
    try to
    pretty much
    probably
    hoping to
    would help me
    Perhaps

    So I guess I might possibly — just maybe — know what I should probably think about doing in the near future.

    Very helpful, Carol, as always!

  33. I love this post. You really got me to thinking about my tone and if is all over the place. I have decided on my 5 adjectives and hopefully this will help me stay focused!
    I write to help others live a more balanced life out of my own difficult experiences.
    Encouraging
    Authentic
    Motivating
    Challenging
    Inspiring
    Thanks!
    Bernice
    Letting go of who I thought I was supposed to be

  34. Great post Carol. You make some really smart observations here that I’ll certainly be adding to my ‘mix’ moving forward.

    My wife recently made one of your key observations regarding my own writing – it was a little too inside baseball while most of my customers are looking for me to be the one explaining things to them. Amazing how one piece of criticism can be so spot on and so helpful.

  35. Wow! No, really, Wow! I devoured this one! This was great info, and I can’t recall reading another article that taught this important aspect of writing so well. Granted, I’ve only been reading blogging articles since September, but still… good stuff. :)

    The line that impacted me the most was, “Make a habit of reading each post one last time, just for the tone. Adjust any off-kilter words that express personality traits at odds with your five defining words.” I read that and it was like a wake-up call, or wake-up slap rather. I re-read for grammar, spelling, and readability, but haven’t paid as much attention to the tone or personality of the article.

    Great advice, thanks!!

  36. Great article Carol (I saw your forum invitation on alist ;). I like how it gives us a practical way to uncover and view our tone. I used to be a very formal writer, as I was trained as a clinical-theoretical writer. Hiring a writing coach and doing boot camp has really help me write with more personality :)

    Here are the 5 adjectives that I hope describe my tone:
    encouraging
    passionate
    grateful
    engaging
    relational
    Take a look, and let me know what you think.

    I do use the word “maybe” in posts. I’m hoping it’s more shining light on possibilities more than coming across as unsure. I don’t think I overuse it.

    Here are adjectives/descriptors from my most recent post: motivating, wild, hilly, steering, brave, awareness, curious, challenge, calm, confident, choices, hopeful, relief
    Great exercise!

  37. I always try to address the problems of what my readers need or want.

  38. This made me realize I use perhaps, maybe and it seems on my own blog in an effort to avoid being “preachy”, but I can see now how the end result would just be weak.

  39. I inspire, educate, equip, and empower.

    This are the words that describe my blog.

  40. Carol – who wouldn’t love a blog post that includes a secret decoder ring? As long as it doesn’t tell us to “eat more ovaltine”.

    Here are mine:
    Fun
    Approachable
    Practical
    Easy

    …Finance

    I can hear the sudden screeching. The usual pregnant silence when someone brings up stuff like cash flow and pricing. I’m a profit coach, my blog is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs address finance questions with easy, practical solutions. (Yeah I know someone said avoid easy, but I’m not claiming I can make you easy money).

    While I think my words are fairly good, recent feedback is that my basic layout and color scheme is too bland. What are your thoughts on visual tone?

    Nicole

    • I love ovaltine!

    • Visual tone…is easily a topic for whole ‘nother article!

      You’re almost there with your 5 words…but “finance” is your actual, official topic for the blog. Maybe your final word is “knowledgeable,” “authoritative”…something that talks about how you want readers to view your finance expertise?

      • @Sonia I *think* you’re kidding. I don’t think I know anyone that actually likes Ovaltine.

        @Carol I think I’ll go with knowledgeable. Authoritative can come across off-putting, not a tone I want. Maybe you can do another post on visual tone – would love to read it.

  41. Great post Carol,

    I went to wordle.com and did a word cloud of my last half dozen posts. My top five modifiers: focused, creative, aware, alert, light.

    A couple of sloppy words also showed up: ‘just’ and ‘really’. I’ll be on the look out out for those, and chop heavily in future. Thanks for the valuable exercise!

  42. Thanks for the great topic today. A lot of food for thought here since I’ve evolved my blog from more of a personal journal to becoming more professional. I’ve tried to keep a tone that’s authoritative and helpful, but also still personal and conversational. My biggest stumbling block is that the more I try to be helpful in my blog, I sometimes sound (to myself at least) more formal and stiff.

    My five words are: motivating fun thoughtful passionate and helpful

    My blog is at: http://everymom2ironmom.com

    You can let me know if I’m succeeding with that!

  43. I love the idea of tone as the “secret message.” I’ve been ultra aware of tone for two decades, ever since I switched from the legal field (attorney and then legal writing instructor at a law school) to creative writing–fiction, nonfiction books, and newspaper columns. I wrote my first short story in the context of a local writing class and the instructor told me it was the most organized story she’d ever read … that wasn’t a compliment. ;) I’d taken my legal tone and slimed my fiction with it.

    So I sidelined the legal tone and began paying close attention to what emotions I wanted to evoke from my readers. In getting the right tone, it helps me to have an intention for my piece of writing.

    On Up From Splat, in both my written posts and videos, I aim for fun, encouraging, and optimistic, with a side of teaching. It’s a site about getting back up when life slams you down, so I intend the writing to help my readers feel good about where they are and excited about where they’re going.

  44. Tone was the first thing we chose when we decided to blog – not that we knew that it was called “tone.” We didn’t want to be just another bed and breakfast using a blog to sell rooms. (I guess we aren’t good salespeople.) Instead,
    “Behind the Blueberry” was going to be offbeat, informative, educational and fun. We figured if people hated our blog they wouldn’t book a room and probably weren’t people we would want in the house anyway. Now we just need to figure out how to blog more regularly when our inn duties take up all of our time during busy stretches.

  45. I’m an insurance broker and the idea of my blog is to keep in touch with my clients, talk about what’s going on in the world of insurance and making it a little fun. Let’s face it, insurance is boring, but I am not.

    I’m a little (okay a lot) nervous about real bloggers reading what I write but here goes:
    http://loiskubota.wordpress.com

    GULP

  46. I don’t have a secret message. I want my readers to share their opinions and encourage them to be open.
    I love cross-cultural comparisons from around the world regarding topics that we can all relate to in one way or another. Thanks for asking.

    • I hope to be authentic in a Gutsy way, that inspires viewers to think about everyday issues in unusual ways.

      • Oh, but you do have a secret message, whether you want to or not. There isn’t a blog created that doesn’t have a tone. You started to tease it out with “authentic” and “inspiring.” Tell us three more words that describe it and you’ll have mapped your undertone.

  47. I have never realized that readers see this seecret message about you and your company, but you are right, this is exactly what I see in every copyblogger’s article.
    Now I have some hard work to do, I need to figure out what my message is.

  48. Satirical
    silly
    honest
    insightful
    (and hopefully) funny.

    That was hard to come up with 5 words; I need to learn more adjectives.
    I overuse the word awesome in my blog. I’ll maintain that it’s because all my readers are awesome.

  49. I have been wondering a lot lately about what it is I really want to achieve with my personal growth blog. This post was a great inspiration, and came at the perfect time – thank you Carol!

    I want the tone of my Sharing Insights blog to be:

    1. Inspiring
    2. Thought Provoking
    3. Personal
    4. Authentic
    5. Useful

  50. If you’re the curious type, please pop on by to my blog and let me know if I achieve any or all of:
    sincere
    intelligent
    talented
    humourous
    inspirational.
    Thank you :o).

  51. Once again, an excellent tip. I don’t think I’ve really paid attention to my tone al that much. I will definitely start taking a better look at it.

  52. Ciao Carol…. This is a very cool exercise and since I am (ahem) finding my voice in a big way right now, I was curious to see what I would come up with.

    Here’s what I’m putting out there (I think):

    international
    savvy
    stylish
    resilient
    creative

    One of my favorite readers/fellow bloggers recently described me on facebook as “The inspirational, touchy-feely blogger for the curmudgeony, snarky crowd.” That felt (strangely) just about right. HA!

  53. Great article – nice points and advice. I don’t like to be snarky but am generally ging for funny. I like seeing my blog in wordle, too.

  54. On both of my main blogs – http://murderingthetext.blogspot.com/ and http://fionajphillips.blogspot.com/ – I try to be approachable, trustworthy, informative and knowledgeable.

    The second of the two is more personal than the first one for which the ‘voice’ is supposed to be Murdering The Text rather than me.

    Do I succeed?

    Thanks,
    Fi

  55. Thanks Carol…I have never really thought about the tone of my blogs..yet the more I read your post the more I realised that yes, on a subconscious level I want to convey a message of hope, peace, life is ok, you are ok and yoga can show you the way. I really hope I can share a bit of me and what yoga has done/does for me and hopefully for you. Not sure if i succeed???
    5 words/emotions I would like you to feel in posts are: magic, power, wisdom, i can do this/i can change, self love…..work in progress….I will have this in my mind next post i write. Thx

  56. Great post Carol. Love the idea of using 5 words and matching copy. Really good stuff.

    I decided to focus a bit more and came up with 3 words: funny, engaging, soulful.

    If you get a chance, check out my response to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, http://www.ifeelgoodaboutmyhair.com.

    How did I do?

    Thanks,
    Michael

  57. This IS excellent! I’m also going to do this exercise, even though I’m the 800th person. I would like to pull off:

    1. Clear
    2. Helpful
    3. Knowledgeable
    4. Open
    5. Approachable

    Eventually, I’d like to replace “knowledgeable” with “authoritative” as I build up business & case studies.

    I am also starting to ghostwrite for a friend’s blog, for practice, and her tone is so different I bet it’s easy, now, to tell my posts from hers (janehamill.com/blog), but her tone is more:

    1. Honest
    2. Funny
    3. Entertaining
    4. Experienced
    5. Inspirational

    Thanks you again…lots of good stuff to think about, but is good to keep me on track.

  58. “Instructive” tone, I think is where I am right now. I should probably do more to think about this though. Thank you for the suggestion.

  59. Perhaps my tone is bit desperate. I have been anxious for sales or social proof. Perhaps I should relax a little bit and just be me without pressure. I might need to have a look at the ‘Ivin Viljoen’ signature at the end of each post. What do you think?

    • Think you’re right — you’ve got great big juicy follow icons nice and visible up top, no need to end each post with “Follow me on Twitter!”

      If your content is compelling, readers will.

  60. Thanks for an informative post. I did the exercise for my last three blog posts! Definitely not happy with the results. I’ve come up with the following 5 tonal points I’d like it to portray.

    Honest,
    Approachable
    Analytical
    Inspiring
    Upbeat

    I think I’m achieving the first 3.
    But I have serious doubts about the last 2. But, hopefully, this exercise will help me address the last 2!

  61. wow, I’ve got so much to learn
    I’d like my blog message to be ;

    smart – well thought out
    brave – in it’s honesty
    independent – respect for free thinking
    questioning – curious
    witty – connecting through observations

  62. I strive for these underlying tones in my weight lifting blog: sexy, tough, smart, confident, and sassy. It’s great fun writing it and perfectly reflects who I am! My posts are largely informational with a little “me” thrown in. Great post, thanks!

  63. Thanks for a great post, Carol. I love the very explicit suggestion that I consider the adjectives I use. My brief self-study indicates that adverb usage is also important!

    It turns out I don’t use many adjectives or descriptive nouns. I did pick up: harsh, fine, capable, elegant, silly, simple, common, certain, efficient, concise, smart. Hmmm…. not a lot of consistency there. Maybe I should do the wordie thing…

    When I do the assignment with adverbs, it seems more helpful. I use adverbs, such as: “strongly,” “tremendously,” “very” “always,” :often.” These communicate a sense of urgency and confidence, which is good for the tone I am aiming for. At the same, time, I will pay attention to these.

  64. Great post, Thank you Carol… this gives a whole new meaning to ‘sleep on it’ before pushing the POST button!

    i’ve been blogging for about a year and it’s been quite the learning adventure – it’s also been interesting to watch the evolution of the blogs I subscribe to.. now I will be adding yours!

    These are the 5 words I’d like to think represent the overall tone of my blog ( http://frenchmarketmaven.com )

    - Engaging
    - Inspiring
    - Personable
    - Informative
    - Approachable

    I’d appreciate any feedback…
    Thanks so much, MarieZ

  65. Since I blog about “practical spiritual tools to create change and live your dreams!” and my audience is women (mostly 30-50′s) who are in transition into a new self-expression and livelihood. Five words hmmm this is a good exercise:
    bold, encouraging, positive, helpful and supportive! To that end I recently wrote a post on sites that encourage creativity by example and hope that it was helpful for my readers but also helpful for the men and women whose sites are featured 10 Sites for Inspiring Your Creativity

  66. I loved this post. So many great points – this one hit home-

    “Actually, pushing the tonal envelope can be a great way to set yourself apart in the blogosphere.”

    The tonal envelope.

    I am changing my tagline from Business is Personal, to Outrageously Authentic – thank you so much for the push!

    As a 20 year veteran of direct response marketing – my gift for headlines is fine honed – but your point is well taken – don’t over deliver with a headline just to get the click and then bore the heck out of them with vanilla opinions.

    Your headline is your promise and you must always deliver – thanks for the reminder!

    Keep ‘em coming.

  67. Check out our Daily Dollar newsletter which provides free daily advice on money matters.
    The first five words that come to mind regarding our tone are:

    reliable
    consistent
    easy-to-read
    informative
    professional

    Would appreciate learning your opinion on these 5 and maybe you have better ones for us to consider.
    Thanks!

    • There is no better or worse tone to take — it’s a question of what tone best serves your subject matter and the persona you want to present. In your case, your 5 qualities are all in a close spectrum, and I’d wager readers are able to grasp what you’re about very quickly as a result.

      When you throw in a wild card — you want to be reliable, consistent, IRREVERENT, informative and professional, it’s a bit trickier. But some great blogs do well throwing the changeup — I’m thinking of Gawker here.

      I’d say the more different tones you’re trying to encompass, the higher the challenge factor — but also the higher the potential rewards in endearing readers to the blog. People love to read writing that’s pushing an envelope, or bending it into new shapes, if it pulls it off.

  68. Yetunde Ogundipe :

    Carol, I find this post interesting and an eye opener, especially now that I’m trying to give my blog a fresh start. It is good when you have an idea of what you are doing(a deliberate act), cos that way you can control the results and feedback. moreover, there is nothing more to building a relationship than having a clear tone people can understand and relate to…giving a clear picture of who are, your ideas and personality. Thanks for the tip.

  69. Great post Carol!

    With a blog called Michelle’s Favorite Things, it is absolutely my intention to have my tone match my personality as I seek to highlight and share my view of what constitutes The Good Life.

    With that in mind, ideally some core adjectives would include:

    Passionate
    Fun-loving
    Curious
    Approachable
    Credible

    Go here to check it out: http://michellesfavoritethings.com/

    Thank you for this thought-provoking exercise.

  70. Excellent post Carol! One of the key things as an filmmaker and writer I’m learning is to have a boundary which to work in. Otherwise , work will seem to be unnatural and over the place. Thanks for the tips .

    Reading my first post I get the following tones.

    Direct
    Imaginative
    Exciting
    Experimental
    Playfull

    Thanks!

  71. This is the perfect idea for the internet marketing agency I work for. Several of us contribute to our company blog and just last week we sat down and thought about the direction we should head, in terms of content. We did a similar exercise during that meeting for another aspect of our company, so this will be great to introduce this week.

    Thanks!

  72. Great exercise! The words that I want my messages to convey are: passionate, fresh, smart, genuine, and inspirational.

    Depending on the topic I try to covey these feelings through my words. Thanks for tips!

  73. I loved this well thought out post. It made me think about how I’m conveying my message to my readers. SmashingEntrepreneur.com is about helping out aspiring entrepreneurs with both business and life. The tone is inspiring, helpful, thought-provoking, and bad-ass.

    Kristoph

  74. I really love these types of posts. The how to’s are always helpful, but this gets into the meat and potatoes of things!

    I am writing a journey blog on my search for my own personal fitness. But instead of it being a diary of everything I want to also provide motivational posts, tips for people in my shoes, and even recipes. So the five words I *want* to describe my blog are:

    motivational, helpful, relaxed, friendly, and transparent

    Reading my three recent posts, these are some of the words I came up with:
    important, great, measurable, dramatic, amazing, interesting, complete honesty, excited

    I noticed that a lot of the positive words I use very often. I think that’s a good start to keeping the tone I want.

    -j

  75. This was not an easy task.

    My intention is to seem approachable but authoritative, knowledgeable but open to learning, relaxed but disciplined. I love balance, in all things, and hope that it comes through without seeming indecisive, which I strive not to be. I also want to be elegant, of course, and never vulgar or crass.

  76. Thanks for this post. I’m a horrible blogger and up until 2 weeks ago, i blogged about random photos and wrote random posts that I hated. so i think i would classify myself as a schizophrenic blogger. I recently found a little direction and since then, i’ve been focusing on my voice. It’s much harder than it sounds. I want my writing to be a reflection of me an my personality but it’s a bit like acting i guess, it’s hard to come off as natural unless you practice practice practice. I’m shooting for authoritative and snarky. I hope i get there. I’ll be bookmarking your site and adding it to my RSS feed.

  77. My blog is meant to be informative, insightful, original, creative, and fun. It’s meant to discuss and supplement the comics I’ve created.