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:
- Why am I writing this?
- Who is my intended audience?
- 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.
|Absurd||illogical; ridiculous; silly; implausible; foolish|
|Accusatory||suggesting someone has done something wrong, complaining|
|Acerbic||sharp; forthright; biting; hurtful; abrasive; severe|
|Admiring||approving; think highly of; respectful; praising|
|Aggressive||hostile; determined; forceful; argumentative|
|Aggrieved||indignant; annoyed; offended; disgruntled|
|Ambivalent||having mixed feelings; uncertain; in a dilemma; undecided|
|Amused||entertained; diverted; pleased|
|Angry||incensed or enraged; threatening or menacing|
|Animated||full of life or excitement; lively; spirited; impassioned; vibrant|
|Apathetic||showing little interest; lacking concern; indifferent; unemotional|
|Apologetic||full of regret; repentant; remorseful; acknowledging failure|
|Appreciative||grateful; thankful; showing pleasure; enthusiastic|
|Arrogant||pompous; disdainful; overbearing; condescending; vain; scoffing|
|Assertive||self-confident; strong-willed; authoritative; insistent|
|Awestruck||amazed, filled with wonder/awe; reverential|
|Belligerent||hostile; aggressive; combatant|
|Benevolent||sympathetic; tolerant; generous; caring; well meaning|
|Bitter||angry; acrimonious; antagonistic; spiteful; nasty|
|Callous||cruel disregard; unfeeling; uncaring; indifferent; ruthless|
|Candid||truthful, straightforward; honest; unreserved|
|Caustic||making biting, corrosive comments; critical|
|Cautionary||gives warning; raises awareness; reminding|
|Celebratory||praising; pay tribute to; glorify; honour|
|Chatty||informal; lively; conversational; familiar|
|Colloquial||familiar; everyday language; informal; colloquial; casual|
|Comic||humorous; witty; entertaining; diverting|
|Compassionate||sympathetic; empathetic; warm-hearted; tolerant; kind|
|Complex||having many varying characteristics; complicated|
|Compliant||agree or obey rules; acquiescent; flexible; submissive|
|Concerned||worried; anxious; apprehensive|
|Conciliatory||intended to placate or pacify; appeasing|
|Condescending||stooping to the level of one’s inferiors; patronising|
|Confused||unable to think clearly; bewildered; vague|
|Contemptuous||showing contempt; scornful; insolent; mocking|
|Critical||finding fault; disapproving; scathing; criticizing|
|Cruel||causing pain and suffering; unkind; spiteful; severe|
|Curious||wanting to find out more; inquisitive; questioning|
|Cynical||scornful of motives/virtues of others; mocking; sneering|
|Defensive||defending a position; shielding; guarding; watchful|
|Defiant||obstinate; argumentative; defiant; contentious|
|Depressing||sad, melancholic; discouraging; pessimistic|
|Derisive||snide; sarcastic; mocking; dismissive; scornful|
|Detached||aloof; objective; unfeeling; distant|
|Dignified||serious; respectful; formal; proper|
|Diplomatic||tactful; subtle; sensitive; thoughtful|
|Disapproving||displeased; critical; condemnatory|
|Disheartening||discouraging; demoralising; undermining; depressing|
|Disparaging||dismissive; critical; scornful|
|Disappointed||discouraged; unhappy because something has gone wrong|
|Dispassionate||impartial; indifferent; unsentimental; cold; unsympathetic|
|Distressing||heart-breaking; sad; troubling|
|Docile||compliant; submissive; deferential; accommodating|
|Earnest||showing deep sincerity or feeling; serious|
|Egotistical||self-absorbed; selfish; conceited; boastful|
|Empathetic||understanding; kind; sensitive|
|Evasive||ambiguous; cryptic; unclear|
|Excited||emotionally aroused; stirred|
|Farcical||ludicrous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable|
|Flippant||superficial; glib; shallow; thoughtless; frivolous|
|Forceful||powerful; energetic; confident; assertive|
|Formal||respectful; stilted; factual; following accepted styles/rules|
|Frank||honest; direct; plain; matter-of-fact|
|Gentle||kind; considerate; mild; soft|
|Ghoulish||delighting in the revolting or the loathsome|
|Grim||serious; gloomy; depressing; lacking humour;macabre|
|Gullible||naïve; innocent; ignorant|
|Hard||unfeeling; hard-hearted; unyielding|
|Humorous||amusing; entertaining; playful|
|Hypercritical||unreasonably critical; hair splitting; nitpicking|
|Impartial||unbiased; neutral; objective|
|Impassioned||filled with emotion; ardent|
|Inane||silly; foolish; stupid; nonsensical|
|Incredulous||disbelieving; unconvinced; questioning; suspicious|
|Indignant||annoyed; angry; dissatisfied|
|Informative||instructive; factual; educational|
|Intense||earnest; passionate; concentrated; deeply felt|
|Intimate||familiar; informal; confidential; confessional|
|Ironic||the opposite of what is meant|
|Irreverent||lacking respect for things that are generally taken seriously|
|Jaded||bored; having had too much of the same thing; lack enthusiasm|
|Joyful||positive; optimistic; cheerful; elated|
|Judgmental||critical; finding fault; disparaging|
|Light-Hearted||carefree; relaxed; chatty; humorous|
|Loving||affectionate; showing intense, deep concern|
|Macabre||gruesome; horrifying; frightening|
|Malicious||desiring to harm others or to see others suffer; ill-willed; spiteful|
|Mocking||scornful; ridiculing; making fun of someone|
|Mourning||grieving; lamenting; woeful|
|Naïve||innocent; unsophisticated; immature|
|Narcissistic||self-admiring; selfish; boastful; self-pitying|
|Nasty||unpleasant; unkind; disagreeable; abusive|
|Nostalgic||thinking about the past; wishing for something from the past|
|Objective||without prejudice; without discrimination; fair; based on fact|
|Obsequious||overly obedient and/or submissive; fawning; grovelling|
|Outraged||angered and resentful; furious; extremely angered|
|Outspoken||frank; candid; spoken without reserve|
|Pathetic||expressing pity, sympathy, tenderness|
|Patronising||condescending; scornful; pompous|
|Pensive||reflective; introspective; philosophical; contemplative|
|Persuasive||convincing; eloquent; influential; plausible|
|Pessimistic||seeing the negative side of things|
|Philosophical||theoretical; analytical; rational; logical|
|Playful||full of fun and good spirits; humorous; jesting|
|Pretentious||affected; artificial; grandiose; rhetorical; flashy|
|Resentful||aggrieved; offended; displeased; bitter|
|Restrained||controlled; quiet; unemotional|
|Reverent||showing deep respect and esteem|
|Righteous||morally right and just; guiltless; pious; god-fearing|
|Satirical||making fun to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive|
|Sarcastic||scornful; mocking; ridiculing|
|Scathing||critical; stinging; unsparing; harsh|
|Scornful||expressing contempt or derision; scathing; dismissive|
|Sensationalistic||provocative; inaccurate; distasteful|
|Sentimental||thinking about feelings, especially when remembering the past|
|Sincere||honest; truthful; earnest|
|Sceptical||disbelieving; unconvinced; doubting|
|Solemn||not funny; in earnest; serious|
|Submissive||compliant; passive; accommodating; obedient|
|Sulking||bad-tempered; grumpy; resentful; sullen|
|Sympathetic||compassionate; understanding of how someone feels|
|Thoughtful||reflective; serious; absorbed|
|Tolerant||open-minded; charitable; patient; sympathetic; lenient|
|Unassuming||modest; self-effacing; restrained|
|Uneasy||worried; uncomfortable; edgy; nervous|
|Urgent||insistent; saying something must be done soon|
|Vindictive||vengeful; spiteful; bitter; unforgiving|
|Virtuous||lawful; righteous; moral; upstanding|
|Whimsical||quaint; playful; mischievous; offbeat|
|Witty||clever; quick-witted; entertaining|
|Wonder||awe-struck; admiring; fascinating|
|World-Weary||bored; cynical; tired|
|Worried||anxious; stressed; fearful|
|Wretched||miserable; 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
- 15 Questions Authors Should Ask Characters
- 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story
- 7 Choices That Affect A Writer’s Style
- 5 Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell
- Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language
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- Posted on 27th June 2014
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