Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Tone and Audience Awareness

Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady!  How many times have we heard that expression in our daily lives?

We often consider the tone that we’re using when we speak to others, but we sometimes forget that our tone—our attitude towards the topic and/or reader—can also be pretty obvious when we write.

To understand the effect that tone can have on your writing, consider what might happen if we attempted to convey the same piece of information using these types of tone:

Casual

Formal

Preachy

Informative

Sarcastic

Serious

Condescending

Understanding

For Example: In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan could indeed use racial quotas as part of the law school admissions process.

Considering the previous eight examples of tone, see if you can identify the tone being used in each of the similar sentences below:

  1. Good luck trying to get into U of M’s law school if you’re not a minority in this country!
  2. Though the quota system at U of M may deter some white male applicants, it’s important to remember that race is only one factor in the lengthy admissions process.
  3. The university admissions staff appears to be unaware that our forefathers fought and died for equality within this nation—such deserved equality is not possible within the university’s prestigious law school.

How does tone relate to “audience awareness”?

One of the most important factors in determining the appropriate tone that you should use in your paper is an understanding of your audience.

To gain an understanding of your audience's expectations, try asking yourself the following questions:

All of these factors influence how your audience will interpret the words on the page; therefore, they should influence your tone as you write them. 

Remember!  Just as you might speak differently in front of the elderly than you might speak in front of your peers, you may have to adjust your tone and possibly the type of information you provide based on the type of audience you expect to read your essay. 

If you’re not sure who your audience might be, be sure to check with your instructor!