‘This article will teach you how to analyse an author's tone in your language analysis essays. Let’s begin.’

Wait, wait. Let’s try that introduction again. 

‘Hi everyone! Welcome to this article on how to analyse an author’s tone in your language analysis essays! Let’s jump right in and see how this can be done.’ 

What do you notice about the two introductions? Which one was more enticing to you? The message is the same in both, but they are written in different tones. 

Tone is something that authors use when writing their persuasive pieces, to help get their point across in different ways. It adds a lot of feeling and substance to their articles, and makes readers more emotionally involved in their point of view. When writing your language analysis essays it is important that you write about how the author's tone helps emphasise their opinion. 

Not sure how to do this? Let’s learn how!

What is tone? 

Tone can be defined as the attitude that words employ. You can think about it like this: if the author of the article was reading their piece to you, how would it sound? The tone that something is said in can change the meaning of the sentence entirely. 

The overall tone that an author uses can really tell us a lot about what they feel about a topic. For example, a sarcastic tone may suggest that the author does not take the issue seriously, while a sad, depressed tone could mean that the author was affected by the problem negatively. 

How to identify tone

There is really an infinite number of tones that authors can use in their writing. Therefore, it is not an easy task to identify tone in a piece of writing!

One useful method you can utilise is to ‘gradually zoom in.’ What this means is that you start by thinking of very simple ways to describe the tone, then gradually become more specific. 

Pondering the following questions might help you with this:

  • Does the author have a positive or negative attitude towards the issue? 

  • What sort of connotations do the words that they use have? 

  • What sort of emotions are they portraying?

  • Are they annoyed? Or perhaps they are more neutral? 

Many students can describe an author's tone using more broad descriptive words; however, if you want to separate yourself from your peers you need to be able to describe tone with many adjectives. To do this you need to find synonyms that better match the tone the author is using. For example:

  • If the author is not using a lot of emotive language, they are probably using a neutral tone. To better describe this in your essays you could say the author's tone is frank, pragmatic, or even matter of fact.

  • If the author is using highly emotive language with lots of negatively connotated words, you could describe the tone as annoyed, exasperated, or appalled. 

  • If you see lots of positive words, you could say the tone of the writing is passionate, excited, or friendly.

Let’s look at an example. 

I'm thrilled that my friend liked their birthday present!

This statement is positive and the first tone word that may come to mind when you read this sentence is ‘happy.’ However, using words such ecstatic, overjoyed, and elated would be a better way to describe the tone here. While they all mean happy, they are more specific to the situation.  

Just remember, that there is no right or wrong way to describe an author’s tone. What is more important is that you can justify your choice using quotes and examples from the writing. 

How to analyse tone

After you’ve identified the tone that the author has used, you should write about how it persuades the reader and/or the effect the tone has on them. 

For example:

  • Using an authoritative, aggressive tone could frighten their target audience into agreeing with them. 

  • A friendly approach may make readers more likely to follow through with a call to action. 

  • A calm and rational tone may persuade readers through fact instead of emotion.   

Of course, understanding the context will help you better understand the author’s choice of tone. 

The tone used can also depend on the author’s career or background. Let’s say two authors were both writing an article about COVID lockdowns. A medical professional may use a very formal tone to argue for the lockdowns, while a journalist may condemn the lockdowns using a sarcastic, frustrated voice. This is a very good point to make in your analysis!

Consider shifts in tone

When authors write their persuasive pieces, they rarely ever stick with one tone. The author usually matches their differing arguments with a specific tone.  

For example, let’s say an author is writing against keeping animals in cages. They might begin their article like this, in a devasted, displeased way:

It is extremely devasting to see poor, vulnerable creatures being trapped in cages by selfish humans.

However, they end the piece in this way: 

I do believe that something can be done to help save the animals, and by signing this petition, you will help us get one step closer.

This reflects a positive, uplifting tone. The emotion in the author's statement at the beginning lures people in, while the end provides the readers with a sense of hope. 

While these tonal shifts can be difficult to spot, commenting on them will impress your teachers and boost your marks!

It is so important that you can identify and analyse the tone that the author has used in your language analysis essays. It really helps show your teacher/assessor that you have understood the article you are analysing.  

In case you want to learn about tone in more detail, these English Notes will have you covered.

And if you are struggling to come up with tone words, check out this FREE resource. 

Ranithri is the author of several ATAR Notes books and is currently doing a Science degree at the University of Melbourne. When not studying, you can find her reading, creating art, or spending time with her cat.