What is “tone”? In writing, tone refers to a writer’s attitude toward the reader and the topic. The overall tone of a written piece of text affects a reader in the same way as one’s tone of voice affects a listener in everyday conversation.
Like it or not, tone is present in all communication, and comes through whether you intend it to or not. It’s as important as the text, and ultimately reflects on the writer and affects how the reader will perceive and feel about the writer’s message.
Tone is a varied as human experience. To understand tone, imagine a key section of what you’re reading. What kind of music would be playing in the background? Dark and moody? Light and peppy? Somber and thoughtful? In movies, music is often used to emphasize tone.
Regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, science or poetry, you not only want to win the mind of your readers but their hearts as well. That is, you want to connect with them on all levels. Why? If for no other reason, their enthusiasm will motivate others to want to read your book. You do this through the tone of your writing.
How do you do this? There’s a bit of trial and error involved. But you first have to decide how you want to convey your message. And realize how subjective this is—how it sounds to your ear may not be how it sounds to someone else’s. That’s why it’s often useful to have someone else read your work, whether it’s friend or an editor. But be sure that you’re clear about wanting honest feedback.
One way to know if you’re achieving an effective tone is to imagine a situation in which you would actually say the words you’re writing. Following are some examples.
If you’re writing a journal—Think of it like a conversation with a close friend; you’d freely use slang or other casual forms of speech.
If you’re writing a column for a newspaper—This might be more like a high-school graduation speech—maybe more formal, but still familiar or even funny.
If you’re writing an academic paper—This is more like a formal speech at a conference. It needs to be interesting, but there may be personal digressions or informal or slang words thrown in.
Words that describe tone
Following are some words that might be used to describe writing tone. The list could easily be added to.
Use the appropriate tone
Following are some useful tips:
- Depending on your audience, choose an appropriate tone, using suggestions above.
- Keep your tone consistent, from beginning to end. If you’re going to diverge, inform the reader and provide the reason.
- Avoid lots of CAPITALIZATION. This is the printed equivalent of shouting.
- Use short clear sentences; make it easy for your readers to follow your story.
- Use active sentences rather than passive ones.
- If you use a conversational tone, refer to yourself or your organization using appropriate nouns and pronouns (“I”, “we”, “us”, etc.).
- Decide whether you’re talking to your readers (“you”) or about them (“people”, “they”, “clients”, and the like).
- Use your tone to indicate the potential benefits, if any, to the reader.
Tone is used to create the style or flavor of a piece of writing to suit the occasion. Whatever tone you choose, make it based on the purpose, the audience, and the goal of your work.
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