Monday, October 25, 2010

Tone in Writing

My students often stumble when I ask them to describe the "tone" of a piece we've read. For some reason, they always say the tone of text book articles and news paper articles is "informational." Far too many students in different classes have said this to me for it to be some sort of fluke. Someone out there has to be teaching that "informational" is a tone. It's not.

When trying to describe tone, use words that would also describe someone's emotions. Don't think what was the text's tone? think how did Jane sound when you talked to her today? If Jane sounded like a newspaper article, then chances are she sounded serious or unemotional. If Jane sounded like a humor column then she probably sounded funny, amused, humorous. If she was announcing the death of a much liked person, then she probably sounded grave, serious, or perhaps a bit shocked.

Tone in writing is much like tone of voice: it comes from word choice and sentence structure. Speaking in short bursts or writing in short sentences is often used to convey that a speaker/writer is angry or excited. Choosing long, sonnorous words and sentences conveys a sense of tiredness or sadness.

So back to work for me -- tomorrow's another day of teaching America's college students that "informational" is not an emotion.

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