Writing Exercises for Tone, Tact, and Diplomacy (ESL)

ESL Level: Upper-Intermediate & Advanced

Language Focus: Writing tactful and diplomatic business and professional communication

Class Time: 45-60 minutes (worksheet only)

Writing Worksheet Download: Find on TPT


This worksheet was inspired by a great post on effective business writing from WritingCommons.org. The article provides explanations of several key concepts of business writing along with a few writing exercises.  This is how I conducted my class:

  • Firstly, I had students work in pairs and discuss the differences in tone in the 'Name that Tone' section. Afterwards, we discussed the differences in tone together as a class.
  • Secondly, I had them read the writing strategies #1-10 on their own.
  • Lastly, I had them write a diplomatic e-mail based on one of the exercises at the end of the article. I then checked their writing and returned it the next day.

The problem was, however, that the students didn't absorb many of the writing strategies because they only read them by themselves. Therefore, I decided to make the below worksheet to practice the strategies (along with a few other concepts I added on my own). Below is a preview. The link to the worksheet download is above.

Learn language for diplomacy

Business Writing Worksheet Preview

Exercises for “Getting Diplomacy, Emphasis and Tone Right in E-mail Messages”

1. Good writing should be audience-focused. This means thinking about the audience and writing in a way that highlights the benefits to the reader. How could this sentence be rewritten in a way that is more audience-focused?

John, I want to go to the training session so I can improve my presentation skills.

Possible answer

John, I think improving my presentation skills would help our company get more clients. This is why it's important I attend the training session.

2. Acknowledge the work of others and provide praise when possible. How could this be rewritten?

Now that the project is finished, let's have a meeting to plan our next step.

Possible answer

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for their hard work on the project. We worked as a team, and we had success as a result. Let's continue our momentum and start thinking about our next step.

3. Avoid blaming others or being negative when it is unnecessary. How could this be rewritten?

Our last manager was terrible so we rarely met to discuss career goals.

Possible answer

In the past, we rarely discussed career goals.

4. Use Active and Passive voice to your advantage. Should these sentences be rewritten? If so, how?

Vivian's great suggestion helped the department save thousands of dollars.

Larry insulted the client in the meeting, so now he's reluctant to do business with us.

Unfortunately, none of us noticed the mistake in time.

Possible answers
  • (no rewrite necessary because the active voice here highlights an achievement)
  • Unfortunately, the client may have felt insulted, so he may be reluctant to do business with us.
  • Unfortunately, the mistake was not noticed in time.

5. When giving criticism, try to be constructive by explaining the negative consequences of such behavior. How could this be rewritten?

Don't wear shorts and sandals to a meeting with clients.

Possible answer

If you wear casual clothes to client meetings, it will reflect poorly on us as a company, which can hurt our business.

6. Instead of criticizing others, Use `I Statements' to explain how the behavior affects you. How could this be rewritten?

You make me so angry! You never finish your work on time!

Possible answer

I feel frustrated when work is not completed on time because it means I have to wait until I can do my work.

7. Use modals (may/might/could be), indirect language (seems/I think/I'm not sure), qualifiers (a little (bit)/slightly/kind of) and positive language instead of negative (wrong = not correct) to be tactful and diplomatic.

  • Her writing is really bad. -> Her writing could be improved.
  • That's a stupid idea. -> I'm not sure that's the best idea.

How could the below sentences be rewritten?

This is wrong.

He's slow at completing his tasks.

The presentation was really boring.

That price is much too high.

Possible answers
  • This may not be correct.
  • He's not the quickest worker.
  • The presentation could have been more exciting.
  • That might be a little expensive.

8. Be concise when writing memos (documents within the company). Time is money!

  • Acceptable to a customer: I'd like to inform you that your order, #302-0232, has been shipped.
  • Better internally: The order, #302-0232, has been shipped.

This worksheet helped reinforce the strategies with my students. Feel free to download it to use with your writing class.

Related Material:

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3 comments on “Writing Exercises for Tone, Tact, and Diplomacy (ESL)

  1. FC (Posted on 11-28-2019 at 14:35) Reply

    is there a key to this worksheet?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 11-29-2019 at 00:45) Reply

      Update Jul 2, 2020: Yes there is! Answers have been added.

  2. Lizzie (Posted on 8-28-2021 at 20:21) Reply

    Very useful, thanks for your generous sharing.

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