How to Write in a Positive Tone

In the tone-of-voice guidelines given to company writers, ‘be positive’ is often one of the cornerstones. So if the instruction is to interact with optimism, how is it actually done?

We all want to be positive. Positive is good, positive is upbeat. Persuasive evidence shows that we tend to respond well to positive people and positive messages. Entire countries often elect the politician with the most positive manifesto.

So, if you’re communicating with your customers, you should be aiming for upbeat.


First, though, there is a caveat: it’s not always appropriate to be enthusiastic and chipper. If you’re writing to inform a customer that the value of their pension fund has halved, or that you’re winding up the estate of their dearly departed, then calm sympathy is the order of the day.

But in general, for a marketing document, for an annual statement, for most of the times when you’re in touch with existing customers or aiming to persuade new ones to sign up, it helps to be as positive, as life-affirming and as enthusiastic as possible.

Here are the nuts and bolts of turning your copy’s frown upside down:

  1. Can any negative words in the writing be replaced with positive ones?

Think ‘please use the path’ instead of ‘don’t walk on the grass’.

‘We can’t respond until we hear from you’ could become ‘As soon as we hear from you, we will respond’.

‘We can’t sell you this product unless you live in the UK’ turns into ‘This product is designed for UK residents’.

‘You must not take your money out until’ could change to ‘Leave your money invested until’.

  1. If you’re writing about a problem, suggest solutions and offer as much help as possible.

‘The £50,000 transfer has been delayed. We’re doing everything we can to move things along. We could make £5,000 available to you tomorrow if that would help.’

‘This is an important decision. To help you investigate all the options, we can direct you to other useful sources of assistance.’

  1. Try to re-frame the bad news.

‘I’m very sorry that we have missed the deadline and not completed the project on time’ could be more positively expressed as ‘It’s taking longer than expected to complete the project to the standard that we all want.’

If something is ‘not finished’, then the more positive view is to see it as ‘almost completed’.

  1. Emphasise the positive.

Why tell a customer ‘there’s nothing we can do at this stage’ when you could at least be ‘looking into how to progress this’?

Error, loss, mistake, problem and impossible could all be re-thought with a little care and attention into: situation, misunderstanding, hitch, complication or something to consider in the future.

  1. Good words lead to good actions.

Every business should remember, above all, that customers matter. Without customers, there can be no business. It’s critically important to engage with them as helpfully and in as friendly a way as possible. The interesting thing about making it an aim to write positively to customers is that it leads to more positive actions for customers.

As soon as you start to re-think customer communications and consider how to sound more positive, you start to re-think how you’re treating those customers.

Why is there a delay again? Why can’t the customer move money around the way they want to? Why can’t they re-position their investments as they’ve requested?

If you commit to talking more positively to customers, then you’re already on the way to addressing the underlying misunderstandings, hitches and complications that caused the need for the negative communication in the first place.