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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone

While reading, have you ever felt as though an author was talking to you inside your head? Perhaps you felt this sensation while reading a social media post, an article, or even a book. Writers achieve the feeling of someone talking to you through style, voice, and tone. Mastering these will help your readers know how to feel about your writing and help you communicate in a way that is unique to you.

In popular usage, the word “style” means a vague sense of personal style, or personality. Applied to writing, “style” does have this connotation—especially in fiction. However, style in writing has a more formal and unique meaning, too. Applied to writing, “style” is a technical term for word patterns that create a certain effect on readers.

If a piece of writing reflects a consistent choice of patterns, then it feels coherent and harmonious. This coherence and harmony can be quite pleasing for readers, and writers aspire to it. However, writers do not always choose a style. Rather, context, content, and purpose dictate the style a writer should use. 

For example:

Genre will dictate a fiction writer’s style. Specific academic disciplines will dictate style for an academic writer. Both genre and discipline have stylistic conventions that writers take into account when creating a written work. When writing, pay close attention to the genre and discipline in which you are writing.

When writers speak of style in a more personal sense, they often use the word “voice.” When you hear an author talking inside your head, “voice” is what that author sounds like.

Of all the writerly qualities, voice is the most difficult to analyze and describe. Most writers have difficulty expressing what their voice is and how they achieved it, though most will allow their voice developed over time and after much practice. Still, there are qualities that, when identified and practiced, can help you develop your own voice.


Look closely at professional writing, and you may notice a certain rhythm or cadence to it. This rhythm is an element of voice. 


Read a number of works from the same author, and you may notice common word choices, perhaps not the same words, but similar words or word patterns. Word choice (also called “diction”) is an element of voice. 


You may also notice that some authors come across as flamboyant while others come across as blunt or assertive. Still others may come across as always second-guessing themselves, adding qualifications and asides to their statements. An author often achieves these qualities through carefully placed punctuation, another element of voice.

To assert your own personal writing style, practice rhythm and cadence, pay careful attention to word choice and develop an understanding of how punctuation can be used to express ideas.

Even when indulging their own voices, authors must keep in mind context, content, and purpose. To do this, they make adjustments to their voices using “tone.”

Tone is the attitude conveyed by an author’s voice. We use two general distinctions when discussing tone: informal and formal.

An Informal Tone

Ever read something, and your heart swells with pride? Or maybe you get angry, or you get scared. Write informally, and you’ll use emotions - big ones. You’ll use contractions, too. A lot of times, when you write informally, you talk about yourself and use the first-person pronoun (I). Sometimes you talk to the reader and use the second-person pronoun (you). An informal tone sounds conversational and familiar like you do when you talk with a friend.

A Formal Tone

When using a formal tone, authors avoid discussion about themselves. They use the third-person perspective. They do not use contractions, and they emphasize reason and logic. Though an author might appeal to an emotion, the emotional appeal would be subtler and more nuanced. Most of all, however, a formal tone suggests politeness and respect.


Key Takeaways


  • When writing, mirror your style after the genre you are writing for. 
  • You can develop your own voice in your writing by paying special attention to rhythm, diction, and punctuation.
  • Use an informal tone for creative writing, personal narratives, and personal essays.
  • Use a formal tone for most essays, research papers, reports, and business writing

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