Tone is the way you speak or write. It’s your attitude toward your reader, the person receiving your message. The tone of your writing affects your reader just as your tone-of-voice affects a listener in everyday conversations.
What is writing tone?
Tone in writing is like tone-of-voice in speech. It adds color to the black and white text. Using an effective tone can make words be more than just writing on a page. Tone can even make a work memorable.
You can pick up on a writer’s tone by their word choices. It’s often inferred from the use of descriptive words. For example, if you get an email from someone that says “Do you have some time so we can talk?”, lots of things may go through your mind. There’s a serious, maybe even ominous, tone to the message. However, if the message was re-phrased as “Do you have some time for a quick chat?”, the tone immediately changes to friendly.
Tone can range from positive to neutral to negative. Here are some examples:
Perception of tone in writing
Tone in writing is conveyed through the words used, but it’s also conveyed due to cultural norms of the writer and reader. If the writer means one thing, but the reader interprets it differently, there’s a miscommunication of the message. So, if someone asks if you want to have lunch together (in person or in an email), there’s a large difference between “Okay.” and “That sounds great!”
Part of the problem is that some words carry different emotional baggage from individual to individual and from culture to culture. That’s where care in writing and definitely in re-reading text is important.
Creating tone in your writing
If you’ve gotten the idea of tone, there are some things you can do to make the tone of your writing both intentional and effective. Obviously, choosing the “right” words is first on the list. If a word “feels” wrong, use a thesaurus for some alternatives.
Your choice of personal pronouns also strongly conveys tone. If you use “you”, you’re talking to the reader. If you use “I” a lot, the reader is going to pick up that the text is about you, not them. Obviously, “I” is absolutely appropriate in something autobiographical (e.g., a diary or a resumé), but it should be used with care elsewhere. There’s also the problem of gender pronouns (he/him/his, she/her/hers), which raises the issue of when to use they/them/theirs. Again, your choice of what to use shows respect or disrespect for your reader and is part of setting the tone of your text.
It’s important for your readers to think you’re being honest and consistent. That shows in both what you say and how you say it (your tone). The same applies to empathy. If you’re trying to convince a reader of something, it’s important for you to understand that person’s situation. If you say something that shows you don’t understand, you’ll probably lose that reader. Writing about the subject of weight loss, is a good example of where a writer might stumble.
Tone is critical to effective writing. So, once you’ve committed your message to text, read it out loud and try to picture your reader’s possible reactions. Or have someone else read it and give you his or her emotional take on it.
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