One way to achieve proper tone is to imagine a situation in which to say the words being written. A journal might be like a conversation with a close friend where there is the freedom to use slang or other casual forms of speech. A column for a newspaper may be more like a high-school graduation speech: it can be more formal, but it can still be funny or familiar. An academic paper is like a formal speech at a conference: being interesting is desirable, but there is no room for personal digressions or familiar usage of slang words.
In all of these cases, there is some freedom of self-expression while adapting to the audience. In the same way, writing should change to suit the occasion.
Tone vs. Voice
Anything you write should still have your voice: something that makes your writing sound uniquely like you. A personal conversation with a friend differs from a speech given to a large group of strangers. Just as you speak to different people in different ways yet remain yourself, so the tone of your writing can vary with the situation while the voice -- the essential, individual thoughts and expression -- is still your own.
“Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.” - Miles Davis
“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.” - Artur Schnabel (1882–1951), German-born U.S. pianist.
These two musicians expressed the same thought in their own unique voices.ExercisesDiction
Label each sentence as formal, casual, or slang based on its diction.
Let’s go get some dinner.It is vital to understand the text one reads.Computers are a pain in the neck.The Mona Lisa looks weird from up close.Pickett’s charge at the Battle of Gettysburg was surely an awe-inspiring sight.
In the following sentences,