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How to Hit the Right Tone in Writing

The tone in writing reflects an author’s emotions or attitude about the subject matter, their readers, and sometimes the author’s attitude about himself. In creative writing, an author can paint the picture of a story through their tone. Is the story scary? Is it meant to be inspiring? You will know this by its tone. Let’s look at different examples of how you can hit the right tone in writing.

Tone in Writing vs. Style

Remember, tone is a little different than style. Style is more like the overall way an author goes about conveying a message. Style is how the author creates textures and conveys the story by carefully choosing their sentence structures and which words they use.

Watch that attitude!

Tone in writing can mean the difference between good communication, and an absolute mess. Let’s take this business correspondence as an example.

    Our restaurant staff has not been doing their jobs correctly so we are not making any money. Because of you, no one will be receiving a Christmas bonus this year.

Yikes! That’s a little heavy-handed, don’t you think? Not only is the tone demeaning and accusatory, it is also depressing and hopeless. Now, let’s look at the same message, but this time with a much friendlier and hopeful tone.

    We regret to tell you that the restaurant didn’t make as much money as we expected this year. Unfortunately, this means we’re not able to give out the Christmas bonuses as we had hoped. We realize you probably haven’t received the training you needed to make the restaurant successful. Therefore, we will be working closely with you in the new year to get the restaurant going in the right direction – and hopefully we can all enjoy a great Christmas bonus next year! Thank you for all of your hard work.

I know you can see the difference in the tone of these letters! The second explains the same basic facts as the first. However, after reading the second piece, the reader still feels valued. They may be disheartened that there is no Christmas bonus, but they feel hopeful that there may be one next year, and they see that the management is willing to work with them to get the situation corrected.

Choosing the Right Tone in Writing

Is there a set rule for selecting the right tone in writing? Well, it’s more like a guideline. It all has to do with:

  • the type of communication,
  • the intent of the communication, and
  • the familiarity the author has with the audience.

Business Communications

Business communications by their very nature should take on a more formal tone. Anything written to a superior or a prospective business associate should be written in a way that reflects the respect the writer has for the reader.

However, if it is an email or a more personal business communication – say between colleagues as opposed to a boss or employee – then a friendlier, more familiar, or more humorous tone might be perfectly fine.

Personal Communications

Personal emails or letters to loved ones or friends would almost always have a personal, light, friendly, and caring tone. Of course, that also depends on the content of the correspondence! If the email is meant to threaten the loved one into splitting up their inheritance, then the tone might be just a smidge less “loving.”

Either way, the personal letter is not nearly as formal as business writing, or writing to someone you don’t know. Whether you are threatening or caring for your family member, there is still a deeply personal relationship. And that relationship at least partially guides the tone.

Fictional Works

Of course, in fictional works, the author creates the tone by the way they use words within the piece. The tone in writing is essential to bringing the reader into the story.

    There was nothing left for them. Nothing they could see anyway. The dark road disappearing into the distance beckoned them toward their eventual demise.

How did that make you feel? Pretty gloomy right? Now, in contrast, check out the paragraph below.

    They looked toward tomorrow knowing that everything was going to be alright. The past was behind them now – and a brand new adventure awaited them in the days to come!

Now we’re talking sunshine and rainbows! Everything seems positive and hopeful in that second piece.

While we’ve covered a few examples in this article, you can learn much more about tone in writing with these lessons. What kind of tone are you hoping to strike in your writing?

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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