Reading and Writer's Tone Help (page 2)
Reading and Writer's Tone
The way you perceive a person's tone of voice has a great deal to do with how you understand what that person is saying. The same is true of tone in writing; it's vital to pick up on clues to tone in order to understand a written piece fully. This lesson shows you how.
Say this word out loud: "Sure."
How did you say it? Did you say it with a smile, as in "Sure, anytime"? Or did you say it flatly, as if responding to a command? Or did you stretch the word out, "Suuuurre," as if you didn't believe what someone just said? Or did you ask it, as in, "Are you sure this is okay?"
Perhaps you didn't realize there were so many ways to say this one single word, sure. But there are. Why? The word itself isn't different; its denotation (dictionary meaning) isn't different; so how can the same word express so many different things?
The difference in the meaning of all these sures comes from the tone—how you say the word, and thus how your listeners will feel when they hear you say it.
Tone: the mood or attitude conveyed by words or speech
When you speak and listen, you can hear the tone of your voice as well as the tone of the person to whom you are speaking. But how do you catch tone in writing? How do you know how the writer wants his or her words to sound? "Sure" by itself doesn't tell us whether you should whisper or shout it. You need to look at the context surrounding that word to find clues about the proper tone to use.
Think about how tone is created in speech. When you say "sure," the tone changes according to how loudly or softly you say the word and how slowly or quickly you say it. Tone is also conveyed (or supported) by the speaker's expressions and body language. In writing, of course, you do not have these visual resources, but you do have plenty of clues to help you determine tone. Those clues come from the elements of language and style that you've studied so far: point of view, diction, and style.
How Tone Influences Meaning
It may help you to think of a sentence as a collection of ingredients (words and phrases) that result in a dish (idea). These elements of language and style are like the spices that you need to give that sentence a certain flavor. Different spices will result in a different flavor (tone).
Look at the following two letters. Both convey essentially the same information, but they have two rather different tones.
Thank you for your letter. We will take your suggestion into consideration. We appreciate your concern.
Dear Valued Customer:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding our refund policy and procedure. We are taking your suggestion quite seriously and truly appreciate your concern.
Which of these letters has a more positive tone? As you can see, letter B is more positive. Why? What do you notice about letter B that is different from letter A?
Perhaps you noticed that letter B uses key words like "valued customer" and "truly appreciate." Letter B also refers to the specific contents of the reader's letter, thus letting the reader know that his or her letter has been read. Furthermore, letter B tells the reader not just that the company "will take your suggestion into consideration"—which sounds a bit like an empty promise but that the writers are taking the suggestion "quite seriously."
You may also notice that the sentences in letter B are longer than those in letter A, whose sentences are shorter and somewhat choppy. If you read those short sentences out loud, how do they sound? They're not very inviting, are they? They sound somewhat mechanical and empty of any feeling.
Use your observations to answer the following questions.
- The tone of letter A is best classified as
Choice c, indifferent, best describes the tone of letter A. There is no indication that the writers of letter A have actually read their client's letter, so there's no indication that they plan to take the client's suggestion seriously. They are indifferent to it. Also, the sentence structure indicates that the writers have not put much thought into writing this letter; as a result, the sentences sound abrupt and even unappreciative.
- The tone of letter B is best classified as
In contrast to letter A, the writers of letter B are sincere, choice b. They know exactly what their customer wrote about—there's the importance of specific details again! They've also taken the time to individualize the letter, and they've added words that show they value their customer and their customer's feedback.
Varieties of Tone
Just as there are endless varieties of tone when we speak, there are endless varieties of tone in writing.
Here's a short list of some of the more common words used to describe a writer's tone:
cheerful sarcastic complimentary ironic hopeful wistful sad foreboding gloomy playful apologetic sincere critical insincere insecure authoritative disrespectful threatening humorous indifferent
If any of these terms are unfamiliar to you, please look them up in a dictionary now.
TIP: One way to identify an author's tone is to read several passages aloud. Listen carefully to the tone of your voice as you read, since tone is reinforced by the author's use of sentence structure and word choice: Does your voice sound as if you are upbeat and happy, or do you sound rushed, critical, or angry?
- What type of tone does a smoothly flowing, medium-length sentence with positive upbeat words convey?
- What type of tone does a short, choppy sentence filled with dark imagery convey?
An ability to determine tone is an essential component of reading comprehension. Often, writers will let their tone convey their meaning, so you need to look carefully for clues in their language and style to determine how writers want their words to sound.
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading and Writer's Tone Practice.
More practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Language and Style Practice Test.
Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.
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