I’m going to try not to sound too much like your legal writing professor here, but tone really does matter. It’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it. I touched on this issue a little bit in a previous post, but it is important enough to stand on its own.
Tone is about how your writing sounds when read aloud (or in the reader’s head). Is the vocabulary so ostentatious that a thesaurus is a necessary companion to the piece? Or does it sound like you are talking to a 5th grader? Either extreme can be a problem. Your job as a writer is to balance the sophisticated sound of authority against the approachable sound of a conversation.
There is no one-size-fits-all. In fact, if you are a practicing attorney and a blogger you should probably have two distinct tones. Your blog should be casual, use contractions and the occasional joke, and avoid any complex terms of art. On the other hand, your legal briefs should sound far more sophisticated, be free of contractions, and emphasize technical legal terms when appropriate.
But why does that matter? If someone wants to read about what you’re writing, they should be able to handle the occasional lexical complexity, shouldn’t they?
Maybe, but no one likes to feel uneducated. If your readers feel that the topic is over their heads, the will simply stop reading. Most people do not browse blogs to find lectures. They want concise, understandable explanations to their issues.
Even judges and legal commentators prefer simplicity. There is a slow-moving trend toward plain English in legal writing. “Heretofore”s and adverbial clauses can bog down even the most sophisticated legal argument. Ask yourself if the extra verbiage is necessary, or if you are just including it out of habit.
The single best way to test the tone of your piece is to have someone else read it to you. (This is also a great way to check for typos.) How does the person sound when he or she read it? Is he or she stumbling over any portion of the work? If it is a blog post, would you sit and listen to this for 500 words if you could easily switch over to looking at cute cats?
After a bit of practice carefully crafting your tone, you should find it comes more easily and consistently. Still it never hurts to do a check once and a while to make sure you still sound like you should.