Voice And Tone Of An Essay

What is Voice?

Voice is the sound created by the writer and the perspective from which the piece is written; voice is created primarily through tone and point of view.  

Tone is the way the writing sounds to the reader.  Is it serious, flippant, sarcastic, reasoned, witty, humorous, casual, or some mixture of these elements? Academic writing, such as research papers or case studies, often calls for a reasoned or serious tone. Some refer to this as a formal voice. Tone is created, in part, through word choice, ordiction.

Diction, or word choice, supports the tone that a writer hopes to convey. Thus, for a formal style, use “made a mistake” rather than “screwed up.” Words marked in the dictionary as “slang” or “informal” would not be good candidates to include in a formal paper.  However, if you were writing a narrative, then such vocabulary might be appropriate.

Point of view: This is the position from which the writer is writing: first person, second person, or third person.  Academic writing generally will be in third person rather than in first or second person. Other assignments that you may be asked to write, for example, personal reflections, may employ first person.

First person statement: I think that the research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.

Second person statement: You will see that the research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.

Third person statement: The research supports the idea that capital punishment does not create a deterrent.


What is Purpose?

Purpose is your reason for writing.  Are you writing to persuade, to explain, or to issue a call to action? Perhaps you have more than one purpose. Understanding your reason for writing will help you to choose an appropriate voice.


What is Audience?

Audience is another way to refer to your readers.  Depending upon your audience, you may choose to adopt a formal voice, a mixed style voice, or even a casual voice. In addition, knowing who your audience is will help you to determine the level of detail that you should provide and the word choices you may make. For example, if your audience for a specific paper is determined to be “insiders” with an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, then you might choose to omit some background information. If you are uncertain of the level of the reader's familiarity with your topic, however, you should write the paper so that any reader can read and understand it.

If you are unsure about the intended audience for your paper, ask your professor!

By Teresa Sweeney, Writing Specialist, 2008

What is tone?

Tone refers to an author’s use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. Tone is often defined as what the author feels about the subject. What the reader feels is known as the mood.

Tip: Don’t confuse tone with voice. [Read How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?] Voice can be explained as the author’s personality expressed in writing. Tone = Attitude. Voice = Personality.

Tone (attitude) and voice (personality) create a writing style. You may not be able to alter your personality but you can adjust your attitude. This gives you ways to create writing that affects your audience’s mood. (Click here for examples of tone in a story.)

The mechanics of tone

Tone is conveyed through diction (choice and use of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar; how you put words and phrases together), and level of formality. It is the way you express yourself in speech or writing.

How do you find the correct tone?

You can usually find a tone by asking these three questions:

  1. Why am I writing this?
  2. Who is my intended audience?
  3. What do I want the reader to learn, understand, or think about?

In formal writing, your tone should be clear, concise, confident, and courteous. The writing level should be sophisticated, but not pretentious.

In creative writing, your tone is more subjective, but you should always aim to communicate clearly. Genre sometimes determines the tone.

  Tone

     Meaning

Absurdillogical; ridiculous; silly; implausible; foolish
Accusatorysuggesting someone has done something wrong, complaining
Acerbicsharp; forthright; biting; hurtful; abrasive; severe
Admiringapproving; think highly of; respectful; praising
Aggressivehostile; determined; forceful; argumentative
Aggrievedindignant; annoyed; offended; disgruntled
Ambivalenthaving mixed feelings; uncertain; in a dilemma; undecided
Amusedentertained; diverted; pleased
Angryincensed or enraged; threatening or menacing
Animatedfull of life or excitement; lively; spirited; impassioned; vibrant
Apatheticshowing little interest; lacking concern; indifferent; unemotional
Apologeticfull of regret; repentant; remorseful; acknowledging failure
Appreciativegrateful; thankful; showing pleasure; enthusiastic
Ardententhusiastic; passionate
Arrogantpompous; disdainful; overbearing; condescending; vain; scoffing
Assertiveself-confident; strong-willed; authoritative; insistent
Awestruckamazed, filled with wonder/awe; reverential
Belligerenthostile; aggressive; combatant
Benevolentsympathetic; tolerant; generous; caring; well meaning
Bitterangry; acrimonious; antagonistic; spiteful; nasty
Callouscruel disregard; unfeeling; uncaring; indifferent; ruthless
Candidtruthful, straightforward; honest; unreserved
Causticmaking biting, corrosive comments; critical
Cautionarygives warning; raises awareness; reminding
Celebratorypraising; pay tribute to; glorify; honour
Chattyinformal; lively; conversational; familiar
Colloquialfamiliar; everyday language; informal; colloquial; casual
Comichumorous; witty; entertaining; diverting
Compassionatesympathetic; empathetic; warm-hearted; tolerant; kind
Complexhaving many varying characteristics; complicated
Compliantagree or obey rules; acquiescent; flexible; submissive
Concernedworried; anxious; apprehensive
Conciliatoryintended to placate or pacify; appeasing
Condescendingstooping to the level of one’s inferiors; patronising
Confusedunable to think clearly; bewildered; vague
Contemptuousshowing contempt; scornful; insolent; mocking
Criticalfinding fault; disapproving; scathing; criticizing
Cruelcausing pain and suffering; unkind; spiteful; severe
Curiouswanting to find out more; inquisitive; questioning
Cynicalscornful of motives/virtues of others; mocking; sneering
Defensivedefending a position; shielding; guarding; watchful
Defiantobstinate; argumentative; defiant; contentious
Demeaningdisrespectful; undignified
Depressingsad, melancholic; discouraging; pessimistic
Derisivesnide; sarcastic; mocking; dismissive; scornful
Detachedaloof; objective; unfeeling; distant
Dignifiedserious; respectful; formal; proper
Diplomatictactful; subtle; sensitive; thoughtful
Disapprovingdispleased; critical; condemnatory
Dishearteningdiscouraging; demoralising; undermining; depressing
Disparagingdismissive; critical; scornful
Directstraightforward; honest
Disappointeddiscouraged; unhappy because something has gone wrong
Dispassionateimpartial; indifferent; unsentimental; cold; unsympathetic
Distressingheart-breaking; sad; troubling
Docilecompliant; submissive; deferential; accommodating
Earnestshowing deep sincerity or feeling; serious
Egotisticalself-absorbed; selfish; conceited; boastful
Empatheticunderstanding; kind; sensitive
Encouragingoptimistic; supportive
Enthusiasticexcited; energetic
Evasiveambiguous; cryptic; unclear
Excitedemotionally aroused; stirred
Facetiousinappropriate; flippant
Farcicalludicrous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable
Flippantsuperficial; glib; shallow; thoughtless; frivolous
Forcefulpowerful; energetic; confident; assertive
Formalrespectful; stilted; factual; following accepted styles/rules
Frankhonest; direct; plain; matter-of-fact
Frustratedannoyed; discouraged
Gentlekind; considerate; mild; soft
Ghoulishdelighting in the revolting or the loathsome
Grimserious; gloomy; depressing; lacking humour;macabre
Gulliblenaïve; innocent; ignorant
Hardunfeeling; hard-hearted; unyielding
Humbledeferential; modest
Humorousamusing; entertaining; playful
Hypercriticalunreasonably critical; hair splitting; nitpicking
Impartialunbiased; neutral; objective
Impassionedfilled with emotion; ardent
Imploringpleading; begging
Impressionabletrusting; child-like
Inanesilly; foolish; stupid; nonsensical
Incensedenraged
Incredulousdisbelieving; unconvinced; questioning; suspicious
Indignantannoyed; angry; dissatisfied
Informativeinstructive; factual; educational
Inspirationalencouraging; reassuring
Intenseearnest; passionate; concentrated; deeply felt
Intimatefamiliar; informal; confidential; confessional
Ironicthe opposite of what is meant
Irreverentlacking respect for things that are generally taken seriously
Jadedbored; having had too much of the same thing; lack enthusiasm
Joyfulpositive; optimistic; cheerful; elated
Judgmentalcritical; finding fault; disparaging
Laudatorypraising; recommending
Light-Heartedcarefree; relaxed; chatty; humorous
Lovingaffectionate; showing intense, deep concern
Macabregruesome; horrifying; frightening
Maliciousdesiring to harm others or to see others suffer; ill-willed; spiteful
Mean-Spiritedinconsiderate; unsympathetic
Mockingscornful; ridiculing; making fun of someone
Mourninggrieving; lamenting; woeful
Naïveinnocent; unsophisticated; immature
Narcissisticself-admiring; selfish; boastful; self-pitying
Nastyunpleasant; unkind; disagreeable; abusive
Negativeunhappy, pessimistic
Nostalgicthinking about the past; wishing for something from the past
Objectivewithout prejudice; without discrimination; fair; based on fact
Obsequiousoverly obedient and/or submissive; fawning; grovelling
Optimistichopeful; cheerful
Outragedangered and resentful; furious; extremely angered
Outspokenfrank; candid; spoken without reserve
Patheticexpressing pity, sympathy, tenderness
Patronisingcondescending; scornful; pompous
Pensivereflective; introspective; philosophical; contemplative
Persuasiveconvincing; eloquent; influential; plausible
Pessimisticseeing the negative side of things
Philosophicaltheoretical; analytical; rational; logical
Playfulfull of fun and good spirits; humorous; jesting
Pragmaticrealistic; sensible
Pretentiousaffected; artificial; grandiose; rhetorical; flashy
Regretfulapologetic; remorseful
Resentfulaggrieved; offended; displeased; bitter
Resignedaccepting; unhappy
Restrainedcontrolled; quiet; unemotional
Reverentshowing deep respect and esteem
Righteousmorally right and just; guiltless; pious; god-fearing
Satiricalmaking fun to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive
Sarcasticscornful; mocking; ridiculing
Scathingcritical; stinging; unsparing; harsh
Scornfulexpressing contempt or derision; scathing; dismissive
Sensationalisticprovocative; inaccurate; distasteful
Sentimentalthinking about feelings, especially when remembering the past
Sincerehonest; truthful; earnest
Scepticaldisbelieving; unconvinced; doubting
Solemnnot funny; in earnest; serious
Subjectiveprejudiced; biased
Submissivecompliant; passive; accommodating; obedient
Sulkingbad-tempered; grumpy; resentful; sullen
Sympatheticcompassionate; understanding of how someone feels
Thoughtfulreflective; serious; absorbed
Tolerantopen-minded; charitable; patient; sympathetic; lenient
Tragicdisastrous; calamitous
Unassumingmodest; self-effacing; restrained
Uneasyworried; uncomfortable; edgy; nervous
Urgentinsistent; saying something must be done soon
Vindictivevengeful; spiteful; bitter; unforgiving
Virtuouslawful; righteous; moral; upstanding
Whimsicalquaint; playful; mischievous; offbeat
Wittyclever; quick-witted; entertaining
Wonderawe-struck; admiring; fascinating
World-Wearybored; cynical; tired
Worriedanxious; stressed; fearful
Wretchedmiserable; despairing; sorrowful; distressed

 

Helpful Tip:Finding the correct tone is a matter of practice. Try to write for different audiences. Even if you only want to write novels, it is an apprenticeship of sorts. Write press releases. Write opinion pieces. Write interviews. Write copy. Write a business plan.

The more you write, the better you will become at infusing your work with the nuances needed to create the perfect book. If you want to receive a daily prompt, click here to join our mailing list.

by Amanda Patterson

  1. 15 Questions Authors Should Ask Characters
  2. 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story
  3. 7 Choices That Affect A Writer’s Style
  4. 5 Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell
  5. Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

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