Tone in writing can make or break your piece. It can be the difference between a bland, banal article and one that is engaging and easy to read.
In this post, we'll explain what it is, why it’s important and cover 34+ types of tone, with example sentences for each one. After this, you'll be able to control the tone of your writing with ease.
When you use Hypotenuse AI, you can also have our AI help you write in a specific tone of voice that you choose. Once you understand tone of voice more, check out our AI article writer to help you get started!
What is tone in writing?
Simply put, tone in writing is the author's attitude towards the subject.
Tone can be conveyed in plenty of ways—through word choice, the level of formality or informality, sentence structure, the punctuation you use, and even transitions between fonts which can be balance with font management software.
It can range from angry and frustrated to light and breezy, and everything in between.
Why is tone important?
Tone is one of the most subtle but powerful tools you have as a writer—setting the right tone will enable you to speak to your target audience’s inner thoughts and needs.
It can connect you to your readers on an emotional level, evoking the feeling of talking to a friend rather than a stranger. A study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group found that different tones of voice in websites impacted a user’s impressions of the author’s friendliness, trustworthiness, and desirability.
Think about it this way: Tone is the difference between:
I'm so excited to tell you about my day!"
"Ugh, I don't want to talk about it."
Tone can be used to set the mood for an entire piece of writing, to convey your attitude towards a certain topic, or to create a specific feeling. It can also be used to add humor, irony or sarcasm to your writing.
In order to write for your reader, it’s important to be aware of the ways they might “hear” and understand the message you’re trying to convey, lest you come across as insensitive, unprofessional, or just plain rude.
Learning how to use tone effectively is essential to create stronger, more compelling pieces for your audience.
What is the difference between tone and voice?
You may have heard “tone” and “voice” used interchangeably.
Both are essential tools to express yourself as a writer—they shape how you come across to your audience. However, they are fundamentally different. Tone conveys the attitude that the writer holds towards the topic at hand, while voice reflects the writer’s personality.
MailChimp’s content style guide lends us a good analogy to distinguish between tone and voice:
You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you're out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you're in a meeting with your boss.
See what MailChimp did here? They used a casual, relatable tone to convey an encouraging, experienced voice to their readers.
While tone changes according to your attitude, voice is more consistent, drawing on your writing personality to decide how you express that attitude. When you nail both tone and voice in your writing, it becomes immensely more powerful and effective.
However, tone is the foundation for each content piece you write—so let’s start there.
What are the different types of tones in writing?
Another study by Nielsen Norman Group identified 4 dimensions of tones in writing. Imagine a sliding scale: the tone a writer can use can be at either end of the spectrum, or anywhere in between.
To differentiate between the types of tones, it’s helpful to think along these dimensions:
- Funny vs. serious: Is the content trying to be humorous (irrespective of whether it succeeds) or serious?
- Formal vs. casual: Is the writing formal, informal, or casual? – Note that casual and conversational are not necessarily the same.
- Respectful vs. irreverent: Does the writer approach the subject in a respectful or irreverent manner? – Irreverent tones are usually irreverent about the subject matter to reflect the brand voice, rather than to the reader.
- Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact: Does the writing portray enthusiasm about the subject or is it dry and matter-of-fact?
Within these dimensions, you can then refine your tone to be more nuanced and specific, such as “apologetic”, “caring”, or “helpful”. At the core of your content, there is a message to be communicated to the reader. Each type of tone achieves a different purpose and influences how that message is received.
How to select appropriate tones in your writing
When it comes to choosing the right tone for your writing, it's important to first consider the situation. What are you writing about? What audience are you writing for? What's your purpose for writing it?
Once you have a general idea, it'll be much easier to narrow down the tone and find the words that will communicate your message most effectively.
If you're not sure where to start, here are a few basic tips:
- Be friendly and welcoming in your tone when writing to a friend or family member
- Be authoritative and professional in your tone when writing to a boss or professor
- Be sensitive and understanding in your tone when writing to someone who is going through a tough time
How to edit and proofread the tone of your writing
To change the tone of your writing, you'll need to adjust the way you use language.
One easy way to set the tone of your writing is through word choice. For example, if you want to sound more enthusiastic, use more adjectives and adverbs. However, if you want to sound more formal, avoid decorating your sentences and get straight to the point.
You can also adjust your sentence structure to change the tone of your writing. For example, if you want to sound more formal, use longer sentences with more complex structures. If you want to sound friendlier, use shorter and simpler sentences.
An example of tweaking your tone of voice
Let’s say the message is to inform buyers that their order has been shipped.
With a serious, formal, respectful and matter-of-fact tone, we would get something polite, professional and to the point.
“We would like to inform you that your order has been dispatched.”
To tweak it to become less serious, we can use contractions for a more conversational tone.
“We’d like to let you know that your order has been been shipped.”
This message still retains elements of being formal, respectful and matter-of-fact, but with a casual twist.
Now to make the message enthusiastic and even more casual, we can use shorter, sweeter sentences with positive adjectives.
“Hey there, fantastic news! Your order has left our warehouse. It’s on its way to you.”
Finally, for the message to employ funny, casual, irreverent and enthusiastic dimensions:
“Oh no, your parcel got stolen by a raccoon! (Just kidding, it’s on its way to you)
See how variations in tone can convey the same message so differently? Refining your tone to suit the context will make your content more compelling.
Tone words with examples to use in your writing
The most common types of tones in writing
These 5 tone words are also available in Hypotenuse AI to help you tweak your writing.
More tone words with examples
Here are 29 more examples to think about when you write your content.
Tips for mastering tone in writing
Be intentional in your writing
Your tone should be deliberate—you should choose it for a reason and make sure it adds value to your writing. Sometimes, writers use a tone that's inappropriate for their topic or that doesn't serve their purpose.
Think about the difference between these two sentences:
"I can't believe you didn't do the dishes!"
"I'm disappointed that you didn't do the dishes."
The first is angry and accusatory. The second is sad and disappointed.
Different sentences can deliver the same message, with very different results. This is why it's so important to be aware of the purpose of your piece of writing and use the right tone to convey it effectively.
It can be easy to inadvertently switch tones without realizing it. You don't want to do so in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, as it can be jarring for the reader.
Seriously, you didn’t do the dishes again? That is rather unfortunate to hear.
Switching tones abruptly can convey mixed signals to your reader. Therefore, when writing, be conscious of the tone you're using and make sure it's consistent throughout your piece.
As a writer, it's important to use tones that are appropriate for your audience and for the medium you're writing in. Remember: tone should be varied to match the attitude towards the topic while your voice should remain consistent.
Setting the right tone in your writing is incredibly important for connecting to your audience. Understanding this skill can make you a better writer and help you create more engaging content.