How to Set Your Tone of Voice in Writing

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What does tone of voice in writing mean? How do different tones of voice convey different feelings?

Choosing what tone to use in your writing is an important decision. Depending on what tone you choose, your writing can convey different feelings and meanings. Additionally, make sure you remain consistent with the tone you choose.

Here’s why your tone of voice matters so much.

What Tone Will You Have?

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser explains that tone of voice signals what you think or how you feel about your topic. For example, you could take a lighthearted, nostalgic, or formal tone toward your writing. 

(Shortform note: While tone signals your attitude toward a topic, your tone can also contribute to how the reader feels from reading your piece. So tone is important not only for reader understanding but also for reader response.)

Zinsser advises keeping your tone consistent throughout a piece of writing to eliminate confusion. If the reader doesn’t know how you feel about a subject, she’ll be confused by your writing. Thus avoid switching between tones in your piece. For example, if a journalist wrote about a devastating tsunami and switched from a serious, concerned tone to a light, humorous one within that piece, he’d get backlash from confused readers. 

Tips for a Consistent Tone

While Zinsser notes the importance of having a consistent tone of voice in writing, he doesn’t offer advice on how to achieve this. Other experts offer tips for maintaining a consistent tone throughout a piece:

1) Before you start a writing session, read a good piece of writing that uses the tone you want for your piece. You’ll naturally mimic this tone and the ways a good author might convey it. For example, for a dry or reserved tone, you might read a passage of Joan Didion’s work.

2) Compare how you started and ended your piece. Did your tone change throughout your piece? If yes, read through your piece and identify where your tone differs from the one you intended. 

3) Be specific with descriptions. Usually the details you include—and how you describe these details—affect the tone of the piece. Notice what kind of tone your descriptions give off. For example, a description of a broken antique table might evoke nostalgia from one writer and a sense of hopelessness or decay from another.

How to Set Your Tone of Voice in Writing

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full On Writing Well summary :

  • A back-to-basics approach to the craft of writing
  • How to practice simple, clear, and engaging writing—even if you're not a writer
  • How to effectively put your ideas into words

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *