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What Is Tone?

Updated on
December 23, 2020
Writing Tips
What Is Tone?

There are many elements needed to write well. In addition to learning technical skills, like correct spelling and grammar, conveying your intended tone in your writing is equally valuable. 

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Learning how to master tone—whether you’re writing a business correspondence or writing short fiction—helps you convey your true attitude about a topic to your reader. Here’s what you need to know about tone, including what it is and how to discover what tone to use.

What does tone mean?

Tone reveals the author’s attitude about a subject or topic to their reader. It can be delivered in different ways, like through word choice, punctuation, and sentence structure. 

It’s similar to when you’re engaging with someone in person. Your facial expression, vocal pitch, and body language might convey a certain tone that informs the language you use in conversation.

By using the right tone in your writing, your readers can better understand your emotions regarding a topic. It’s a signal to your reader about how your writing should make them feel. Your tone might be delightful or sarcastic, lighthearted or aggressive, among other types of tones, all through your writing.

Examples of tone in writing 

The following excerpt from “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, a poem by Dylan Thomas, conveys a tone of urgency and desperation:

“Do not go gentle into that good night, 

Old age should burn and rage at close of day; 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Professional writing, however, might suggest a cordial—but urgent—tone, like in this example:

“Thanks for agreeing to help me with this project! I’d really appreciate your PowerPoint slides ASAP so we have enough time to practice before our 8 a.m. presentation tomorrow.”

When writing a note to a friend that shares an urgent message (but in a playful tone), it might look like this:

“Hey, Jocelyn! Thanks for dog-sitting Cooper for me tonight. I forgot to give him his medicine so can you PLEAAASE help me out and give him one pill ASAP? Have I ever told you that you’re the BEST?! :)”

How to use the right tone

Choosing the right tone might feel like a monumental task. To help you bring out your intended tone from your writing, answer a few questions:

1 Who are you writing this for? 

Your audience can help you narrow down an appropriate tone as you’re writing. A letter to a business client might take a formal tone while a holiday card for your hairstylist might use a playful and casual tone.

2 What’s its purpose? 

Determine the reason for your writing. Your purpose, like gaining a prospective client’s business versus sending a close friend a holiday greeting will result in different tones.

3 What do you want the reader to take away? 

Your writing communicates an idea, topic, or other information. Think about what you’d like your recipient to learn, feel, or act on after reading your writing.

After considering these questions, you’ll have a clearer sense of the types of tone that might be appropriate for your writing.

How word choice supports tone

The words you choose in your writing give your reader tremendous clarity about its tone. Although you can decide between a handful of words with a similar meaning, deliberate word choice gives your writing added connotation that informs tone. 

For instance, “listless” denotes a lack of energy or spirit, while “tired” can also suggest a similar meaning. But choosing “listless” has deeper connotations of indifference and apathy. Thus, the connotations of your word choices affect the tone and meaning of your writing.

How Grammarly’s tone detector can help 

As you become more aware of how you write tone, the attitude you’re sharing with your reader will be more consistent throughout your writing. Another way to check in on this skill is by using Grammarly’s tone detector

Landing an effective tone can be hard to get right on the first try, but tools like Grammarly ease this learning curve by helping you become a better writer.

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