in The Basics

The Intricacies of Voice, Style and Tone

Have you ever heard the quote that goes something like, “I don’t know where you end and I begin”? (I believe the first time I heard it was during a Calvin Klein commercial for a perfume.) Strangely enough, I have managed to relate this quote to writing as this string of words often comes to mind when I think about voice, style and tone. I don’t know how you feel, but to me, the lines between the three can seem a bit blurred and somewhat fuzzy. If you too have been slightly confused by these terms, my goal here is to bring some simple clarity to these seemingly cloudy aspects of writing.

Voice

To get right to the point, your voice is YOU. It is your personality – but on paper (or these days, on a screen). You can start to “find” or develop your voice by writing in the same manner in which you would speak in a given situation. Just as you have a unique personality, you also have a unique voice; it is what makes you stand out and sets you apart from other writers. As you develop your voice through consistent writing, readers should be able to get to know you and recognize that you are the author. Incorporating your point of view or perspective, inserting your favorite words and phrases, and sharing personal stories and experiences in your writing are ways to allow readers to become familiar with your voice.

Style

Whereas voice expresses your personality, style has more to do with structure, words, and punctuation. It is the way in which you put together your words, sentences and paragraphs. Your style can change depending on your intended reader and the purpose of the writing. Some things to consider when defining your style are: the impression you want to make; choice of words (i.e. slang or formal); short and choppy sentences; long and drawn-out sentences; and use of punctuation (i.e. lots of commas or not so many).

Tone

While voice and style pertain to self-expression and structure, tone sets the mood for your writing. In other words, tone conveys a particular feeling or attitude that you would like your reader to experience. Both voice and style should be used to help create the tone of your piece. As with style, tone can vary and should be appropriate for your intended reader and purpose. Before you begin writing, think about how you would like your piece to be perceived by your reader. A few options would be: Casual or Professional; Simple or Complex; Positive or Negative.

“I Can See Clearly Now…”

As we can see, voice, style and tone work closely together and are intricately woven with one another to allow us writers to create the nearly perfect piece. While the definitions may seem unclear, especially to beginning writers, each aspect is equally essential. And after writing this, I am happy to say that I now feel like quoting the song that goes something like, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone…” I hope you feel the same.

  • Have you been unsure about the meaning of these terms before?
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