Better legal information

What’s in a tone?

Tip of the DayHave you ever come across the problem in social media or email where someone misunderstood what you were trying to say because they couldn’t hear the humour in your “voice”? If so, you know how important tone can be in writing.

Tone is not always a laughing matter. Research shows that people have a harder time understanding information when under stress or experiencing trauma.

Even strong readers may have difficulty with written information when they’re in a lawyer’s office or other legal settings. Make sure you allow for this in the content, organization, and tone of your information.

Here are some tips to help find the right tone and get your message across effectively and sensitively:

  • Read your piece out loud before you finalize it. Hearing your information out loud can highlight issues with tone that aren’t obvious when looking at the written page.
  • Avoid using negative constructions when possible. For example, instead of saying “Do not delay getting legal advice if you get a notice from your landlord”, use “Get legal advice right away if you get a notice from your landlord.”

See CLEO’s Better Legal Information Handbook for more information on tone and other clear language writing tips.