ToneCheck Test Drive: Spots "Unprofessional" Email, Knows Dick Cheney Sounds "Sad," "Angry"

Program helps make sure missives arrive with their intended messages. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Talking to people in person sucks. It’s dangerous, lame, and I won’t have any of it.
Talking to people in person is difficult. It doesn’t seem very professional, and I’d rather do it differently.

Which sentence sounds better to you? The first version certainly gets the point across, but if those behind the ToneCheck software are right, that point may be lost in the unprofessional and blunt tone. Better to air on the side of stilted professional language than colloquialisms—which, according to tests of the software, are often "fearful" or "sad."

ToneCheck, made by tone-specialist Lymbix, works like a spelling or grammar check, but instead of catching inappropriate apostrophes or misplaced modifiers, it finds "inappropriate sentences or phrases that are throwing the tone of [the] message off," ToneCheck CEO Matt Eldridge tells FastCompany.com.

Inspired by the increased frequency and lack-of-nuance in digital communications, Eldridge set out to find a digital solution to the digital problem. Now, a little more than a year later, a beta version of ToneCheck is available (for Outlook only, though—no comment on what this says about PC users’ communication skills).

"It identifies words, phrases, or sentences that exceed your tone tolerance," Eldridge says. After  downloading the software, you set the tone you want—a scale from negative to positive. When your email is ready, you run the check, and the program spits back flagged phrases and offers alternatives.

We ran a few test emails through the software to see how well it caught improper language, and what kinds of linguistic solutions it offered to what’s supposed to be successful human communication.

The first one got some simple suggestions, but, somewhat surprisingly, the program didn't seem to care about the scatological remarks or the "OMG" opener.


For our second test, we used a column by Maureen Dowd in which she masquerades as our Vice President. The software went to town on this one; here's some of what it found:



Eldridge claims this software can replace asking a real person to do a quick once-over on your emails, creating "an environment where there’s more productivity."

So for those looking to codify linguistic tone, this may be the software for you. But for people already afraid that their time in front of screens is taking the humanity out of communication, it’s best to leave digital tone-checking to the cyborgs.

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