Matching your tone to your content and purpose is a good corollary to the “know thy audience” rule of writing. It’s a crucial decision that makes an enormous difference in your ability to impart meaning with words.
Tone is communicated by an accent or inflection on a word, and can also be found between the lines. Tone is all about striking a pose in prose. It’s the attitude you put forth and shows how you feel about your subject and audience.
Your tone can be professional and objective, emotional or dispassionate, agitated or calm. It can be fearful or confident, ironic or straightforward, upbeat or melancholy. Pick any emotion and a skillful writer can translate it into tone.
Making tone a conscious choice from the beginning is important. This is because tone tells its own story, so it needs to relate well to the rest of the words around it.
Let’s say you are writing to persuade readers about a social issue. In that case, it’s important your content is accurate and informative. But how best to state your case? You might decide a reassuring tone would enhance reader trust and prove the most persuasive.
But what if you wanted to catch your reader’s attention more dramatically? Satirists like Jonathan Swift did this artfully, contrasting a shocking idea with a detached tone to drive home an argument. There are many creative approaches you can take. Adopting an unusual or unexpected tone can work well when you are trying to jolt readers into new insights. But picking the wrong tone can hamper your ability to connect with readers. If your tone is too dissonant from your content, you risk arousing reader suspicion and unease.
In your next piece, think about how tone can support the points you are trying to make. Try experimenting with different tones to see their impact. Do they strengthen or weaken your arguments? Add tone to your writing toolkit as a way to make your words work harder.
One way to get better writing tone is to get better recognizing it in what you read. A how to piece on carpentry might be quite straightforward, but include an admiring tone about the qualities of working with wood. A travel piece might feature an amusing tone about being stranded at the airport. A letter to the editor of your local paper complaining about a sticky local issue might feature a serious, critical tone.
Whichever tone you choose, be consistent throughout your piece. Edit for tone as well as spelling and grammar. Doing so will make your writing better. The right tone is just the kind of come hither magnetism that will keep your readers coming back for more.
© 2013 Anne Doherty Johnson
About the Author: Anne Doherty Johnson is marketing strategist with expertise in growing engagement and revenues for member based organizations. She has also counseled corporations and individuals on how to maximize memberships in pursuit of their goals. Contact her at http://www.annedohertyjohnson.com.
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