Establishing Tone with Word Choice Help (page 2)
Establishing a Persuasive Tone and Writing Style
Once you have a thesis that hooks your reader and compels him or her to continue reading, making the rest of your writing as convincing and strong as your opening argument is just as important. This lesson will help you to establish a persuasive tone and writing style by choosing the best words and expressions for you and your material.
In Writing a First Draft Help, we saw that brevity was important when writing a thesis statement and that fewer words make a statement more powerful. Less is more. The shorter and more succinct your ideas are, the better. The same principle holds true for establishing and setting the tone for your paper. What is tone? The tone of a work or piece of writing is usually defined as the mood that a writer conveys to the reader. In other words, is your paper written in a convincing, strong, authoritative tone or is the tone hesitant and uncertain? Does the author seem knowledgeable and in command of the material, or at the mercy of it? Even though you have spent a great deal of time researching your paper, you do not have to be a professional, full-time historian to sound credible. Writing persuasively is simply a matter of setting the right tone immediately. It's similar to the way you established your thesis statement in the opening of your paper, and it will make your paper as powerful as possible.
Using Professional Language
When a lawyer presents a case in court, he or she does not appear before the judge and jury in pajamas, hair uncombed, with unsorted papers, and a tattered briefcase. Similarly, any good lawyer would not want a defendant, plaintiff, or witness to appear disheveled. In fact, most attorneys tell clients to wear formal clothing when they appear in court and to look presentable on the day of their trial. This is why you often see defendants, plaintiffs, and witnesses alike wearing suits or dresses and looking polished. Visual presentation, even if it isn't verbal, often speaks volumes about a person and, fortunately or unfortunately, we all make judgments about a person's character based on appearance. In a sense, as author of your paper, you can think of yourself as the attorney and your paper as your client. In other words, imagine that you have been hired to defend your client (or prove your thesis statement). Naturally, you would want to present your case and your material in the most convincing fashion. For example, let's return to your thesis statement. Here are two possible ways that you can present your case (your paper) about J.F.K. to the jury (your reader). You can say:
"In my opinion, after a great deal of thought and research (in which I read many books on this subject), I really think the J.F.K. assassination was not the result of a government conspiracy as many people seem to believe, but I've decided that instead, his murder was the unfortunate result of the actions of a lone gunman."
Now, take out all the qualifying statements such as "In my opinion," "I think," and, "I believe," and reword your statement so that it might sound something like this:
"President John F. Kennedy's assassination was not the work of an organized conspiracy but instead the result of a calculated plan carried out by a lone assailant."
Which statement sounds more convincing? Which statement takes the least amount of time from your judge and jury? Essentially, both examples contain the same factual information; however, the tones of the two statements differ. Example B sounds more convincing because the language and the writing are stronger. In other words, the "lawyer" (or writer) is not hesitant, equivocal, wishy-washy, or undecided. The statement is worded in such a way that it sounds like an authoritative, indisputable fact. This kind of tone is important to establish throughout your paper so that your reader never doubts your evidence or your argument even for a single second.
Being in the Courtroom
Remember your outline? Each paragraph of your paper in the body was carefully outlined and supported in Point #1, Point #2, and Point #3. As you write your paper and fill in your outline with all the facts and statistics that support your thesis, you still have to write in such a way that your evidence continues to convince your reader. Again, let's imagine the courtroom. Suppose you have been hired as an attorney to defend a client in a "hit and run" car accident and your client has told you that he or she is not guilty of hitting the pedestrian in question. Your statement at the opening of the trial to the judge and jury might sound like this:
"My client is completely innocent of the charges leveled against him (or her), and the evidence that I have assembled will prove this assertion beyond any doubt."
A less convincing attorney using a less persuasive tone might say:
"I think that my client is innocent of the charges leveled against him (or her), and I hope that you will also come to believe this assumption and hopefully agree with me and my conclusions."
However, because the charges in such a case may be so serious, it is simply not enough for you to make an opening statement; you now have to present evidence—or in the case of the courtroom—specific exhibits that will prove your client's innocence. Like the body of your paper and each point that you will make to your reader, each exhibit in a courtroom must be relevant to the case at hand, vital to the discussion, and presented in such a way that it is indisputable. For instance, perhaps Exhibit A is a photograph of the intersection at the time the car accident took place, and your client's car is nowhere in the photo. As a lawyer, you might introduce Exhibit A by saying:
"Exhibit A clearly shows that my client's car was definitely nowhere in the reported vicinity of the accident. Since the vehicle is not in the photo of the crime scene, it is impossible that my client or his (her) car could have been anywhere in the area and therefore, he (she) is in no way responsible for the accident."
In other words, Exhibit A is crucial to your case because it provides clear evidence that your client is innocent. If Exhibit A were a photograph of the neighborhood supermarket that was several miles away from the reported accident or a picture of the neighborhood park on a sunny day, your evidence would be irrelevant and not useful to your client or the case you were trying to prove. Similarly, every section, paragraph, point, quotation, and statistic must be relevant to your thesis. Not only should your evidence be relevant but it must support your thesis beyond a shadow of a doubt and be worded in such a way that the reader will have no second thoughts as to what you are proving.
Using Formal Language
Writing a paper is an act of persuasion. Remember, you haven't done all this work and research just to entertain your reader. While you want to write in a lively and entertaining way, your most important task is to convince your reader to perceive a topic as you do. In other words, you are writing to enlighten your reader and educate him or her by compelling him or her to view a situation from your perspective. Keeping this goal in mind, it's important that every word you use to persuade your reader counts. To do this, you don't have to use complicated words or expressions that are antiquated or only found in dictionaries. You want to use current language, but you should avoid using conversational language or slang expressions that will only make your tone seem less professional and more juvenile. Colloquial or informal expressions that you might use with a friend or in your diary may not be the most professional language. For example, a sentence like this would be a poor choice:
John F. Kennedy's personal side wasn't so hot. He really didn't have the greatest personality and a lot of people were bummed out by his policies.
You could keep the exact same information, but just change your word choice so that the paragraph sounds more authoritative and reads like this:
John F. Kennedy's personality was controversial. Many people were often disappointed with his policies.
In other words, whenever and wherever you can, read your writing to yourself. Think of yourself as that courtroom attorney. Do you really want to get up and talk to the judge and jury as if you were sitting next to them in a bar or a restaurant, or do you want to use the full power of your position and speak with authority? You would never walk up to the judge and jury and say, "Hey guys, how are you all doing today? If you just chill with me for a while, I'll prove why my guy here is innocent." Being persuasive suasive means establishing a credible tone, one that will command the attention and respect of your reader, and treating your reader like a professional will earn his or her respect. There is an old saying: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." In writing a paper, however, it is both: it is what you say—making sure that it is relevant—and also how you say it.
Establishing a strong tone and writing style is easy to do with formal, well-chosen language. Remember, as a writer you are as important as any attorney defending a case in a courtroom full of influential people. Stride into that courtroom with confidence! Immediately persuade your judge and jury to invest their time and interest in you with your professionalism, your commitment, the quality of your evidence, and the commanding style of your presentation. If you treat your judge and jury with respect, addressing them courteously and professionally, they will listen eagerly to your case and award a verdict in your favor. As a writer, the same rules apply. Although you may not actually meet your readers face to face, they are putting aside their favorite activities for several hours in order to read your work. Write for them as if you were personally presenting your case in front of them. Treat them with dignity. Don't waste their time presenting evidence or making points that will not prove your thesis. Word your language as carefully and thoughtfully as you can so that every word counts.
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