How to Identify Tone in an Essay

In order to identify the tone, the reader should try to identify emotional meaning of the essay. Tone is the writer or the speaker's implied attitude toward his or her subject and/or the reader or audience (see Reference 1). Writers convey their attitudes in the words they choose and in the style in which they write, in turn creating the atmosphere or mood of the essay.

Identifying Tone

The reader should approach identifying the tone in an essay in much the same way that he would identify the tone of a speaker. A mother’s tone with her son might be stern, angry or disapproving if he comes home with a bad report card, and jovial, ecstatic or nonchalant if he comes home with a great report card. Similarly, the tone of a persuasive essay might be serious and formal, while the tone of a travelogue might be humorous and satirical. In general, the tone of an essay may be described as serious, ironic, formal, informal, angry, funny or any other adjective that appropriately defines the implied attitude of the writer or the speaker.

Function of Tone

In order to identify tone, the reader should understand its function. The main function of tone is to create a particular atmosphere or mood in the mind of the reader (see Reference 1). In the above example, the different tones that the mother uses with her son will evoke different feelings in the son, thus creating different moods in the home at the time of the conversation. The tone in an essay serves the same function. It evokes certain feelings in the reader, establishing the atmosphere or mood of the essay.


In order to identify both the tone of the essay and the mood that it evokes, the reader should examine the style in which the essay is written. More specifically, in order to identify the tone, the reader should analyze the essay’s diction. The writer creates the essay using particular words. The writer’s choice of words is called diction (see References 1 and 2). The use, the arrangement and the meaning of these words creates the essay’s tone (see Reference 2).

Effect of Diction on Tone

In identifying tone, the reader should consider the effect that certain types of diction have on the tone of the essay. For instance, certain types of diction, like hyperbole and litotes, say a lot about the writer’s implied attitude (see Reference 2). Hyperbole is an overstatement or an exaggeration, in which the writer says more than he really means. An essay that employs a lot of hyperbole may have a tone of sarcasm, revealing a superior attitude toward his subject or the audience. Litotes is an understatement, in which the writer says less than he really means. This type of language is an underrating of a subject. An essay that uses a lot of understatements may have a mocking tone.

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