Language and tone can highlight an author’s point of view. Language and tone also influence the quality and logic of an argument. As a reader, you can see if a writer is impartial or biased by evaluating the text’s language and tone.
Language refers to word choice and emphasis as well as how words are put together and punctuated in sentences. Tone refers to how the author uses words to convey an attitude. There are a number of questions that you can ask when analyzing an author’s use of language and tone in order to determine how they contribute to the author’s message. For example:
- Is the language formal or informal? Impersonal or personal?
- Does the language show any bias in terms of word choice or tone?
- Is the language appropriate for the intended audience and purpose?
- Is the language overly emotional? Overly complicated? Overly simple?
- Are sentences clear and direct, or lengthy and complicated in syntax?
- What does punctuation contribute, if anything, to the text’s tone?
Compare the language and tone in the two sample paragraphs below. As a reader, what do you infer about the author’s point of view? How would you characterize the tone of each sample? What do you think about the quality and logic of each selection?
In the first sample, the author comes across as effusive. The text urges the reader that action has to happen quickly. The author’s language, punctuation, and word choice all help elicit this reaction. In contrast, the author comes across more calmly and rationally in the second sample. The tone is more muted than in the first sample, and the text suggests that readers need to raise their awareness in addition to immediate action—the call to action is not immediate. The ideas are similar in both sample paragraphs, but you can see the different effects achieved by manipulating language and tone.
There are many, many possible tones, including the following:
The following video discusses how tone contributes to the meaning of a text.
Based on your reading of the first three paragraphs of “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen, answer the following questions about language and tone (answers will vary).
How does the author come across in the first three paragraphs, based on his language and tone?
The author comes across very strongly in the first three paragraphs. Actually, as I read the first paragraph, I wondered what kind of article I was reading, as the language and tone were slightly wild. By the time I got to the end of the third paragraph, though, I could connect its content with the rant-like sentences from the first paragraph and start seeing where the author was going.
What descriptive words would you use to characterize the author’s tone?
aggressive, informal, very serious, hard-hitting, no-nonsense
You previously identified the author’s main idea and purpose. If the author had used different language and tone to introduce his ideas in the first three paragraphs, what do you think the effect on a reader would be? Another way to consider this is to ask why he chose the tone he chose.
If written in a calmer tone, as a reader I might not have wanted to read yet another article on the depletion of our natural resources. The fact that the author uses a very brash tone in the first three paragraphs made me curious as to what he was writing about. I think that he chose this aggressive tone to correlate with his main idea about the need to be aggressive in fighting the industrial economy that is depleting our resources, and to rally readers to action. I don’t think that being so hard-hitting is useful in most cases, as the language and tone could backfire and turn readers away, but I can see why the author consciously chose to be aggressive in this particular case.