At the Sound of Your Tone . . . Part 1

Contributed by Christopher Williams on 08 November 2006 at 10:52

So. Two of the most elusive concepts in writing are tone and voice. Where grammar, content, and even organization are generally apparent in a paper, tone and voice are rather more ephemeral. They exist more as a general sense or feeling about a paper, rather than something specific that can be readily identified and circled. So how do you approach something as subtle as tone and voice can be?

It is important to understand the purposes of tone and voice before attempting to control their use. I will save an in-depth discussion of voice for a future post, but the difference between tone and voice must be clear first. The difference is that voice reflects the nature of the author, while tone reflects the nature of the intended audience. This is the core of the philosophy of proper tone.

It would be, quite frankly, an abomination if I were to submit any of my blog entries here as a serious paper in most courses. The tone is all wrong. (Since I am writing about tone right now, I am more self-conscious. Read, if you will, one of my older posts for better examples of non-professional tone.) My muddled assortment of parentheticals, contractions, careless pronouns, grammatical convolutions, hopefully humorous juxtapositions, and vague idioms would not pass muster before a professor’s pen.

Yet all these things - horrors to the academian - have their proper place here. I am not trying to write a professional paper. I am trying to write an approachable, informative, and (I hope) mildly entertaining article about writing. Therefore, my casual, near conversational style and playful prose work towards my true purposes.

And that’s the crux of choosing a tone. The things that make up tone - stylistic choices, word choice, formality or informality, adherence or nonadherence to strict grammar, even sentence length - are there to help you communicate with your audience. Just like everything else in writing. Here, I write casually in hopes of drawing in a wide audience of readers. In class, I adhere closely to the formal stylistic and tonal expectations of my professors. I try to give my audience what they want, be it casual or formal tone. You will be given much more credit as a writer if your tone matches your audience's expectations, because your audience will be given what they expect to see from a credible writer. Go figure.

As with so much else in writing, tone boils down to this: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!!!

With the philosophy of tone behind us, I will move to some more practical advice on how to achieve appropriate tone in my next entry. So check back soon. Until then, good luck writing.

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