Writing

How to Nail Tone in Writing: 34+ Examples of Tone


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, and even the punctuation you use.

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!"

and

"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?

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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.

Tone Usage Example
Authoritative When you write in an authoritative tone, you present yourself as an expert in your field. This builds trust with your readers. Avoid using fillers such as "I think" or "in my opinion”. Instead, use confident language that reflects your knowledge and expertise on the subject. It's no coincidence that many of the world's tallest people come from countries where dairy is a big part of the diet. Milk is an excellent source of nutrients which promote bone health. That said, if you're looking to achieve your optimal height, adding milk to your diet is an essential step.
Conversational With a conversational tone, you want your readers to feel like they’re talking to a friend. To do this, write in simple, everyday language—use contractions, shorter sentences, and an active voice. The aim is to sound natural, like a chat over coffee. Did you know that drinking milk can actually help you grow taller? Milk is packed with nutrients which are good for your bones. And since bones are what make up your body, it's no surprise that getting enough of these nutrients can help you reach your full height potential.
Enthusiastic An enthusiastic tone conveys energy and positivity through your writing. Use bold language—instead of “nice” or “interesting”, go for words that pack a punch like “incredible” and “fascinating.” Write like you're telling your readers a story. Enthusiasm is contagious! Believe it or not, drinking milk can actually help you grow taller! That's because aside from being delicious, milk is a fantastic source of calcium, which does wonders for bone growth. So if you're looking for a way to add a few inches to your height, a glass of milk is a great place to start!
Humorous Writing in a humorous tone is a great way to engage your reader and lighten the mood. Just be careful not to overdo it. Like a comedian, you need to know when to deliver the punchline. And please, make sure your jokes are actually funny.  Do you dream of being able to reach the top shelf? Drinking a glass of milk every day can help you achieve this lofty goal. Dairy lovers tend to be taller than their non-milk drinking counterparts, so drink up and enjoy your extra inches.
Matter-of-fact A matter-of-fact tone is informative, straightforward, and respectful. State the facts, and avoid embellishment or opinion. Use an active voice and get to the point quickly. Your goal is to impart information in a clear and concise way Milk is rich in calcium, protein, and vitamin D. Calcium is essential for bone health. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, while protein is needed for the growth and repair of tissues. Therefore, including milk in your diet can help you to grow taller.

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More tone words with examples

Here are 29 more examples to think about when you write your content.

Tone Usage Example
Admiring  An admiring tone is positive and sincere—it's just like giving someone a compliment.
Steve’s an excellent role model for the children. His passion and dedication are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Apologetic An apologetic tone is sincere and contrite. It acknowledges a mistake without making excuses or shifting blame. As a teenager, I was always rude to my parents. I shouldn’t have taken them for granted.
Bitter  A bitter tone is used to communicate anger, frustration, or disappointment. Seeing as how unemployment rates are still sky high, it appears that the president’s election campaign was built on empty promises.
Candid  A candid tone is direct, honest, and sincere. It can come across as blunt, but also refreshing and real. The truth is, I'm struggling to keep up with my work and my mental health.
Compassionate A compassionate tone conveys sympathy and understanding. It is often used for difficult or emotional topics. Many kids are constantly pushed to meet higher expectations. It's a never-ending cycle that must be exhausting for them.
Concerned A concerned tone is measured and earnest. It conveys the gravity of the topic at hand. While it is understandable that offices go through a lot of paper, the volume of paper waste is becoming increasingly significant.
Conciliatory A conciliatory tone is meant to defuse a tense situation. It is humble and sincere. It can be frustrating when you can't find your favorite snack in the pantry, but please resist the urge to eat your co-workers’ food.
Critical A critical tone is objective and fair. It is honest without coming across as mean-spirited. Although the company claims to be committed to environmental sustainability, its actions suggest otherwise.
Curious A curious tone is interested and inquisitive. It invites the reader to think about the topic at hand. You might be surprised to learn that strawberries are not actually berries. But bananas are. So what makes a berry?
Diplomatic A diplomatic tone is respectful and tactful. It may take a neutral stance on controversial or sensitive topics.
Both are strong candidates. Amy has a wealth of experience. Bobby is newer to the field, but has many fresh ideas.
Direct A direct tone is straightforward and assertive without being aggressive. You can read all the self-help books and motivational quotes you want, but it’s discipline that will get you results.
Disapproving A disapproving tone is firm and direct in expressing a strong negative opinion. There is no justification for spending millions of dollars on a project that will displace so many from their homes.
Disappointed A disappointed tone conveys that something falls short of expectations. It is honest without sounding whiny. The plot showed great potential, but the movie unfortunately fell flat in its execution.
Empathetic An empathetic tone is open-minded and sensitive. It is respectful of different perspectives and experiences.   The loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things a person can go through. There is no one “right” way to deal with grief.
Formal A formal tone is no-nonsense and professional. It is free of slang words, contractions, and emotive language. In regard to coffee, factors to consider include taste, caffeine content, and health benefits.
Grim A grim tone is dark and serious. It conveys feelings of unease or foreboding.
We are living in a time of mass extinction, and it is our own doing.
Informative An informative tone is clear and straightforward. It is simply meant to relay facts and information. The highest mountain peak in North America is Mount McKinley in Alaska.
Inspirational An inspirational tone is uplifting. It conveys positivity, enthusiasm, and hope. If you dig deep, you can overcome anything. So take challenges head-on, and show them what you're made of.
Ironic An ironic tone expresses an idea usually by implying the opposite, in a humorous or emphatic way. The tornado wasn’t that strong—it only managed to take the roof off the house.
Joyful A joyful tone is light, airy, and upbeat. It creates a positive and uplifting atmosphere. Christmas is simply magical. No other time of the year comes close!
Objective An objective tone is unbiased and informative. It does not let personal feelings or opinions get in the way. Smoking cigarettes can reduce anxiety. It can also increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.
Pensive A pensive tone is reflective and introspective. It creates a longing or wistful feeling.
While being an adult can feel rewarding, you can’t help but miss those carefree days of your youth.
Playful A playful tone is lighthearted and engaging. It’s not afraid to be a bit silly or irreverent. Sure, you’re a “grown-up” with “responsibilities” now. But who says you can’t still have a little fun?
Regretful A regretful tone expresses a wish that something had gone differently. It is sincere and reflective. Things wouldn’t have happened the way they did if I’d made different decisions.
Sarcastic A sarcastic tone is a form of irony, used to convey mockery or contempt. After all their hard work, the employees were just thrilled to receive a wage cut.
Sincere A sincere tone is candid and trustworthy. It conveys genuine intentions without ulterior motives. I made a lot of mistakes with my first business. I hope sharing my experience can help young entrepreneurs just starting out.
Thoughtful A thoughtful tone is balanced and precise. It demonstrates careful consideration of the audience and topic. While the recent apple shortage has been attributed to worms, there are likely other factors at play as well.
Urgent An urgent tone is direct and concise. It conveys a sense of importance and immediacy. Foreign spies are already making inroads into our institutions, gaining positions of power and influence.
Whimsical A whimsical tone is fanciful and imaginative. It is lighthearted and often humorous, evoking a sense of fun and wonder. A dragonfly zipped through the air, its aquamarine wings flashing in the sunlight.

Tips for mastering tone in writing

Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

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!"

vs.

"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.

Maintain consistency

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.

Conclusion

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.

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