Establishing Tone with Word Choice Help (page 2)

Updated on Sep 2, 2011

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:

Example A

"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:

Example B

"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:

Example A

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:

Example B

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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