How to Use Tone
If you need to make your tone more formal, try reading examples of business letters (especially cover letters), legal briefs, and scholarly papers. Notice how these forms of writing sound very different from the way people naturally talk. They do not use colloquialisms or slang terms, for one thing. They also tend to avoid contractions such as “we’re” and “isn’t.” It’s also typical to stick with the third person in formal tone (using he/she/they, etc.), but it’s OK to use “I” every now and again if it’s necessary to explain your point.
If you need to make your tone more informal, it might be best to avoid the written word and focus more on the way people express themselves in natural conversation. There are certain aspects of natural speech that you wouldn’t want to replicate in your writing (such as the “ums” and fragmentary sentences). But nonetheless the informal tone is supposed to replicate the sound of a conversation, so the best way to learn it is to pay attention to conversations!
When to Use Different Tones
How do you know which tone to use in a given piece of writing? The answer is both very simple and impossibly complicated: the right tone for your writing is whichever tone the reader will prefer. Naturally, this involves a little guesswork. You have to put yourself in the position of your reader and try to imagine what sort of tone they will respond to. That’s not an easy job! But you can make it a little easier by thinking about the overall qualities of different tones.
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