A Guide for Writers: 13 Examples of Tone in Writing

Updated August 25, 2023

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A person is sitting at a desk with a pen and paper while looking at a computer screen. There is a list titled "Tone in Writing" with the bullets:
• Formal
• Optimistic
• Informative
• Entertaining
• Cooperative
• Curious

The way you write and the word choices you make in your writing confer feelings and emotions on the reader. These writing choices are known as the tone of a written piece, which is similar to the tone of voice used when communicating orally. Understanding tone and its applications in various writing methods can help you determine how you want to convey your message to others.

In this article, we discuss what tone in writing is, plus we provide a guide covering 13 examples of tone to help guide you when working on writing of your own.

What is tone?

The tone used in writing refers to the feeling the words invoke in the reader. A written piece might have a positive or uplifting tone, or the tone might feel sad or tense. When you write, your mood at that time might have an impact on the overall tone of your piece.

You might also use your feelings about the story or situation you are presenting in the written communication to reflect the tone. Additional factors that impact the tone of a piece include the verbs and adjectives you use and how you utilize imagery to tell the story.

Tone also refers to the complexity of the writing, along with the formality of the words used. A more formal piece might reflect a more serious topic, while a lighthearted story might use less formal words and diction. In literature, tone refers to how the author expresses their attitude throughout their writing.

Tone might stay the same throughout a piece, or it might change to reflect a shift in the story or mood. An author might also use different tones in various pieces they write.

Related: 10 Communication Skills for Career Success

13 examples of tone in writing

As you review the meaning of tone in writing, you can also look at various examples of tone to get a better sense of what each might look like in your own writing.

1. Formal

A formal tone is common in a professional or academic context, when the piece needs to be direct and thorough while maintaining a respectful feel. Formal pieces often include full words with no contractions or other shortened words and does not include slang terms. It is grammatically correct and emphasizes facts rather than opinions.

Example: “According to the data presented, the yellow tree frog mates between April and June.”

Related: Writing Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Informal

Informal is the opposite tone of formal and sounds more conversational. Some people write in the same way they speak to a friend, and this is known as an informal tone of writing. Pieces written in an informal tone may include colloquial or slang phrases and shortened words, such as contractions. The author of an informal piece may also convey more emotion and personal opinions in the piece.

Example: “Hey, what's up? I'm calling to see if you want to catch a flick tonight with me and my buddies?”

3. Pessimistic

A pessimistic tone reflects a negative view of a situation or the belief that a situation will not get better. Pessimism is not realism, but an author may use this tone when they feel negative while writing or when they want to reflect a point of view that sees things negatively.

Example: “I got diagnosed with cancer and my dog died. I just don't believe that anything will get better anytime soon.”

Related: Your Guide to a Career as a Content Writer

4. Optimistic

Optimistic is the opposing tone to pessimistic, seeing the world in a positive light. An optimistic tone conveys the belief that things will get better, even during challenging situations.

Example: “Despite the civil unrest happening in my city, I believe I can make things better and see real change in my lifetime.”

5. Tense

A tense tone helps to keep the reader feeling unsure of what will happen next. An author might use a tense tone when writing a mystery or thriller and they want to convey feelings of worry and concern. In most stories, a tense tone will lead to a resolution and the tone will change. Another term for a tense tone is worried, which can make the reader feel anxious or apprehensive about what is to come.

Example: “She frantically searched the room for the killer, who she knew was hidden somewhere in the darkness. Moving blindly through the space, she wondered whether she would find him and stop him before it was too late and he moved on to his next victim.”

Related: How To Become a Writer in Seven Steps

6. Curious

A curious tone reflects that the author or character wants to learn more about a particular topic or situation or that the reader will continue to uncover important details. Someone might write with a curious tone if they are trying to uncover new information or describe a young child who is learning more about the world around them. Using this tone can keep a reader intrigued as they continue to read the piece.

Example: “He continued to ask questions as we drove to school, wondering about the color of the sky, why the birds were flying in a V-shaped pattern and whether I would be there to pick him up after his nap.”

Related: Narrative Devices: Definitions, Benefits and Tips

7. Uplifting

An uplifting tone seeks to convey a supportive and motivating feeling, providing reassurance to the reader that they can overcome challenging situations or take new steps in their journey. Using an uplifting tone is common among self-help authors and motivational speakers.

Example: “Jason knew that the first day being back at school in his new wheelchair would be difficult, but he remembered his mother's advice to go through the day with a smile on his face. He wheeled himself into school, only to find that his friends and fellow students were happy to give his chair a push and sit with him, offering friendly and encouraging words.”

8. Aggressive

An aggressive tone might convey feelings of frustration or anger. When writing aggressively, an author may seek to prove their point in a harsh or unfriendly way.

Example: “The answer is no, and I don't want to hear another word about it for as long as we both live.”

Related: 7 Satire Techniques With Tips

9. Assertive

Some people assume that an assertive tone is the same as an aggressive tone, but they do differ. An assertive tone conveys authority and confidence, while an aggressive tone comes across as more angry or harsh. When writing assertively, an author will often present things in a straightforward and direct way with little to no room for argument.

Example: “As she spoke, her conviction was unshakeable and those listening felt moved to join the committee and make changes in their community.”

10. Informative

An informative tone seeks to inform the reader about a particular topic or subject. Educational materials often feature an informative tone.

Example: “The human brain contains millions of cells, all working to handle the various functions performed by the human body.”

Related: 22 Types of Nonfiction Writing and Their Features

11. Entertaining

An entertaining tone seeks to help the reader enjoy the material. It might be humorous and make the reader laugh, or it might simply be lighthearted and enjoyable.

Example: “Knock-knock, who's there? Nobel. Nobel who? No bell, that's why I knocked on the door.”

12. Sarcastic

A sarcastic tone often expresses contempt or mocks another point of view. Using sarcasm in writing is more challenging since its definition refers to it as a form of verbal irony. However, authors can convey sarcasm in their writing when also explaining the expressions of the characters.

Example: “Rolling her eyes, Emma responded to the bully, ‘Okay, whatever you say goes,' and then forcefully walked away.”

Related: 12 Steps for Starting a Career as an Author

13. Cooperative

You will often see a cooperative tone in materials written for the workplace, expressing the need for mutual participation as a team or group of people works toward a shared goal. A cooperative tone often includes positive and collaborative elements, along with phrases that indicate the desire to work together.

Example: “After I present my plan for the new project, I would love to hear your thoughts and will open the meeting up to sharing by everyone on the team.”

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