Have you ever read a news article or blog that took the wrong tonal approach for the subject 一 like a comedic piece about a tragic event? The experience was probably awkward at best and insulting and alienating at worst.
Although tone is often overlooked by novice writers, the tone of your paper, article, or blog is an important component of the piece as a whole, and it can make or break the connection you have with your readers.
Many writers struggle to get an authoritative tone right. Perhaps we can blame textbooks and scientific journals for why we sometimes believe that an authoritative tone means boring, dry, and difficult to understand. But an authoritative tone is a useful tool that every writer should know how to properly wield.
What Is an Authoritative Tone?
An authoritative tone is a writing style that displays confidence, authority, respect, and knowledge.
For example, if you were writing an obituary, an authoritative piece might start, “John was a loving father who was well respected among friends and family,” while a conversational piece might start with, “My dear father, John, was an amazing man who really loved all his family and friends, and we loved and respected him back.”
When Should You Write Authoritatively?
To decide if an authoritative tone is best for your article or blog, consider the audience. Ultimately, do your readers want information, or do they want to be entertained?
A great place to write authoritatively is in guides and directions. If your reader wants to know how to install a new tire on their car, they are likely stressed and not in a mindset to accept a comedic anecdote about when you blew your first tire as a teenager.
Another place an authoritative tone shines is in informational pieces. If you’re writing an article about the Trail of Tears, it probably shouldn’t be littered with jokes, tangents, and modern slang. Not only would that approach show a lack of respect, but it could also negatively affect your authority as an educated individual who should be writing about that topic.
How Do You Write Authoritatively?
An authoritative tone can be created through a number of elements. Your job as a writer is to work the following components in so your writing enhances your subject authoritatively and reaches your audience.
1. Show Confidence
If a reader wanted to learn how to replace a lightbulb, would they turn to instructions that say, “Unscrew the old lightbulb, and replace it with the new bulb,” or “You should probably remove the old lightbulb first, but if that doesn’t seem right, you may want to call a professional”?
As an authoritative writer, demonstrate to your readers that you know what you’re talking about. When you show a lack of confidence in yourself, that doesn’t inspire trust in your readers. However, this can be difficult to do when you aren’t an expert. You have three ways to get around this problem:
- Educate yourself. You can read about the topic or experience it for yourself. Either way, if you’ve learned for yourself how to do something, you can teach it to others.
- Only talk about what you know. If you don’t understand the intricacies of how a car engine works, don’t write an article about that topic. Instead, choose an angle that covers car engines in a more general way.
- Fake it. Even experts have things to learn, and sometimes all you need is to step out of your comfort zone. However, do not lie or make up information. Fake the confidence — not the information.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to stick with just one method. If you follow all three, you may even be an expert by the time you’re done writing.
2. Be Direct
Softening your message limits your ability to maintain an authoritative tone. In particular, watch out for phrases like “you should,” “you may want to,” and the like.
Let’s go back to the lightbulb example. “You should probably remove the old lightbulb first” implies that you could potentially start with a different step instead, such as putting the new lightbulb in first.
Replacing a lightbulb is a fairly easy task, so your readers probably won’t make that mistake. But as your topic gets more complicated or difficult, like how to make macarons or how to jump-start a car, don’t leave room for confusion and doubt.
Although you want to be direct, avoid coming across as bossy or condescending. Remember, your readers are smart 一 you don’t need to explain how to do something like open a door. They’re coming to you with trust and a desire to learn.
3. Use Jargon
An authoritative piece is also a great place to show off your knowledge of industry-specific jargon. For example, consider which of these sentences sounds more informed, knowledgeable, and trustworthy:
- The patient’s symptoms indicate a psychosomatic disorder.
- I’m pretty sure it’s all in her head. She doesn’t have anything wrong with her.
People will often believe someone who sounds well informed and educated on the subject. Conversely, they doubt writers who appear to be unaware of and unfamiliar with the phraseology common to the topic.
However, be careful not to go overboard — i.e. don’t add content just to use jargon. Jargon that sounds forced, or occurs too often, can confuse your audience and even turn them away. When you use jargon naturally, you’ll impress your readers and appear more authentic.
4. Choose Strong and Specific Words
Additionally, you can create an authoritative tone with precise verbs and subjects. For example, readers may feel more comfortable following directions like “Turn the tuning pegs to adjust the pitch of your guitar strings” than directions like “Use the twisty things at the top to change the sound.”
5. Use Resources
One of the best ways to display authority is to back up your information with scientific research. If you have facts, statistics, or quotes from credible sources, take advantage of them.
For example, something like “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that a million deaths could be prevented each year if everyone washed their hands routinely,” will always be stronger, and more authoritative, than something like “When you wash your hands correctly, you can save lives.”
What Hurts Your Authoritative Tone?
Even when you follow all the tips above to write authoritatively, some writing elements can slip in and negatively affect your piece.
1. Qualifiers and Contractions
Qualifiers are words that are used to enhance or modify the meaning of another word or phrase. For example, “Those flowers are very pretty” or “Always vacuum after you have guests.” Although qualifiers have value in the right circumstances, they clutter up your authoritative pieces and create a conversational tone.
A contraction is a word that has been created by combining two other words, like don’t or isn’t. Contractions can give your piece a more conversational tone, so avoid them in an authoritative piece.
2. Poor Organization
One of the goals of an authoritative article or blog is to show authority and build credibility with the reader. So an effective way to negate your credibility as a professional is to write a piece that doesn’t have a smooth, logical organization.
3. High Reading Level
The reading level of your article is determined by your subject, audience, and purpose. However, if you have a widespread audience, consider lowering the reading level.
Authoritative pieces tend to automatically lean toward a higher level because of the industry-specific jargon, so be careful about how you implement this element of your blog. For the majority of online content, it’s ideal to write at a 7th- to 9th-grade reading level.
4. Pop Culture References
A quick mention of Game of Thrones or Ed Sheeran will send your piece into a conversational tone immediately. Unless your article deals with a pop culture topic, like the morality of Joffrey Baratheon, then you should stay well away.
Writing with an authoritative tone isn’t something you need to be intimidated or bored by. If you follow these tips, you can educate and entertain your readers while also displaying a high level of credibility, professionalism, and respect.
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