Tone: How You Actually Come Across When Writing Online

Tone: 'the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.'

Consistent Tone

Read your writing aloud: does it sound like you?

It's so important that readers get a consistent sense of who you are and what you're trying to say. If you're writing non-fiction then social media posts, web copy and email communications should all reflect the type of interactions that people might have with you in real life.

If one moment you're being funny and sarcastic with emojis, and the next you're writing with short, direct sentences and lots of full stops, people are going to get a distorted message.

How genuine are your social media communications? In my book, the more natural the better...

How to Create 'Tone'

Sometimes people talk about 'tone' as being the 'attitude' of the writer...

I find it helps to consider who you are writing for, and how you want to make them feel.

There are also some formal elements to consider when analysing your tone:

Diction - actual word choice. There are often multiple words you could use to make the same point. The particular one you choose will create the tone for your work. Some words are more emotionally loaded, or have extra connotations to them.

Rhythm - are your sentences short and high energy, or longer and relaxing? This can vary between pieces, so doesn't always need to be consistent. A social media caption might be higher in energy, and a blog post is probably slower and more descriptive. You'll notice my sentences are quite long in my blog posts. This is just my style, which also informs the tone.

Syntax - is grammatical arrangement of the words: the sequence in which the subject, object and verb appear. This is one of the most frequent edits I make - shuffling around the order to make a sentence sound more effective or to move the emphasis.

Formality - are you sounding like a close personal friend or like an old boss with a grudge? This is perhaps one of the easiest elements of tone to get right once you are aware of it. It comes naturally - but one technical example might be whether or not you use contractions: it's, they're, don't, we've ... or whether you write 'it is, they are'... the second version is more formal isn't it? Is it not?

Awareness of Tone:

I think the main thing is to be aware of your tone before you press publish or submit a story. Have you managed to communicate the emotion you wanted to, even if that wasn't how you were feeling at the time?

As writers, we're constantly making decisions about how much of ourselves to put into our work. It might be that the elements of your day are always reflected in your writing; but sometimes a project needs to be separate and distinct from your daily life. In this instance, it's important to check that your poor night's sleep hasn't altered the tone of your piece of writing. If your usual bubbly charm has come over all sarcastic and cynical all of a sudden, readers will be left feeling confused. Equally, if you're usually formal and correct, be careful not to slip and suddenly get sloppy just because you're overtired or drafted in a rush.

I say this all the time (and am totally guilty of not doing it myself) but re-reading before you publish is the BEST WAY to check your tone. If you can read aloud without looking like a loon in your office - even better.

I hope this has been helpful - do ask me if you have any questions!

Emily x