From The Write Practice:
What is tone in writing and why does it matter?
Tone is key to all communication. Think of the mother telling her disrespectful child, “Watch your tone, young man.” Or the sarcastic, humorous tone of a comedian performing stand up. Or the awe filled way people speak about their favorite musician, author, or actor. Or the careful, soft tones that people use with each other when they first fall in love.
Tone is communication, sometimes more than the words being used themselves.
So then how do you use tone in writing, and how does tone influence the meaning of a writing piece?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to use tone in all types of writing, from creative writing to academic and even business writing. You’ll learn what tone actually is in writing and how it’s conveyed. You’ll learn the forty-two types of tone in writing, plus even have a chance to test your tone recognition with a practice exercise.
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Definition of Tone in Writing
Tone in writing refers to both the writer’s feelings and attitude towards the subject and the audience and how those feelings are expressed. Tone is one of the elements of writing, and writers convey their tone through word choice and syntax. Like tone of voice, it helps set the mood of the writing piece and influences the reader interpretation.
Examples of tone can be formal, informal, serious, humorous, sarcastic, optimistic, pessimistic, and many more (see below for all forty-two examples)
Why Does Tone Matter in Writing
I once saw a version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the dialogue had been completely translated into various Indian dialects, including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and more. And yet, despite not knowing any of those languages, I was amazed to find that I could follow the story perfectly, infinitely better than the average Shakespeare in the park play.
How could I understand the story so well despite the fact that it was in another language? In part, it was the skill of the actors and their body language. But one of the biggest ways that the actors communicated meaning was one thing.
Their tone of voice.
Tone is one of the most important ways we grasp the meaning of what someone is saying. If someone says, “I love you,” in an angry, sneering way, it doesn’t matter what their words are saying, the meaning will be completely changed by their tone.
In the same way, tone is crucial in writing because it significantly influences how readers interpret and react to the text. Here are a few reasons why tone is important:
- Tone conveys feeling. The tone reflects the writer’s attitude toward the subject and the audience, helping to shape readers’ perceptions and emotional responses.
- Tone can help readers understand the meaning of the text. A well-chosen tone can clarify meaning, making it easier for readers to understand the writer’s intent and message.
- Tone is engaging! As humans, we are designed to respond to emotion and feeling! Tone can help to engage or disengage readers. A relatable or compelling tone can draw readers in, while an off-putting tone can push them away.
- Tone sets the mood. Tone can set the mood or atmosphere of a piece of writing, influencing how readers feel as they go through the text.
- Tone persuades. In persuasive writing, tone plays a significant role in influencing how convincing or compelling your arguments are.
- Tone reflects professionalism. In professional or academic contexts, maintaining an appropriate tone is crucial to uphold the writer’s authority.
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42 Types of Tone in Writing Plus Examples of Tone
Tone is about feeling—the feeling of a writer toward the topic and audience. Which means that nearly any attitude or feeling can be a type of tone, not just the forty-two listed below.
However, you have to start somewhere, so here a list of common tones that can be used in writing, with an example for each type:
- Formal: This tone is professional, dignified, and somewhat detached.
- Example: “Upon analysis of the data, it’s evident that the proposed hypothesis is substantiated.”
- Informal: This tone is casual, friendly, and conversational.
- Example: “Hey folks, today we’ll be chatting about the latest trends in tech.”
- Serious: This tone is solemn and sometimes urgent, not intended to be humorous or entertaining.
- Example: “The implications of climate change on our future generations cannot be overstated.”
- Humorous: This tone is light, funny, and entertaining.
- Example: “Why don’t scientists trust atoms? Because they make up everything!”
- Sarcastic: This tone involves saying something but meaning the opposite, often in a sharp or cutting manner.
- Example: “Oh great, another diet plan. Just what I needed!”
- Optimistic: This tone is hopeful and looks at the positive side of things.
- Example: “Despite the setbacks, we remain confident in our ability to achieve our goals.”
- Pessimistic: This tone is negative and tends to focus on the worst aspects of situations.
- Example: “Given the declining economy, it’s doubtful if small businesses can survive.”
- Urgent: This tone creates a sense of immediacy or importance and may call the reader to take immediate action.
- Example: “We must act now! Every moment we waste increases the danger.”
- Objective: This tone is unbiased, neutral, fact based, and direct . It’s often used in scientific reports or news articles.
- Example: “The experiment concluded with the subject showing a 25% increase in performance.”
- Subjective: This tone is personal, biased, and full of the personal opinions and feelings of the author. It’s often used in opinion pieces or personal essays.
- Example: “I’ve always found the taste of coffee absolutely heavenly.”
- Respectful: This tone shows admiration or respect towards the subject. It’s used when talking about venerable individuals or institutions.
- Example: “We owe our success to the ceaseless efforts of our esteemed team.”
- Irreverent: This tone deliberately shows lack of respect or seriousness. It’s often used in satirical or controversial pieces.
- Example: “So much for their ‘revolutionary’ product. It’s as exciting as watching paint dry.”
Link to the rest at The Write Practice