What is tone? How do you create a tone within an essay? Watch this video lesson to learn how writing with a specific audience and purpose in mind will help you to achieve an appropriate tone.

Starting an Essay

Writing an essay is a long-term process. Before you even begin to write, there are several factors you need to consider. Of course, you need to decide on a topic and gather information to support your main idea, but you also need to consider the tone of your essay, which can be achieved with consideration for your audience and purpose. Let’s look at how you can strike the right tone.


First, you need to understand what tone is. Tone is the attitude of the writer, which means the author’s viewpoint on the subject matter. The tone of any essay is directly related to audience and purpose. You should also use relevant vocabulary to achieve your tone. As the writer of your essay, you want to make sure you are striking the right tone for your specific purpose and audience. There are a wide variety of possible tones for essays, including ‘sarcastic,’ ‘solemn,’ ‘critical,’ and ‘humorous.’

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Let’s look at an example. Imagine you have been assigned an essay in class on Italy’s role in World War II. What kind of tone should you aim for? Since the topic is a very serious one, your tone should reflect that. Your attitude needs to be very professional, and you need to sound knowledgeable about the topic. No sarcastic or emotional comments should be made. The tone should be serious and formal. If you have used wording and vocabulary appropriate for an essay that will be read by your teacher, then you will have achieved this tone.


An important factor in determining your tone is your audience. To figure out your audience, ask yourself, ‘Who will read my essay?’ If your essay is for a grade in class, then your audience is your teacher or professor. If you are writing an essay to be published in a periodical, your audience is anyone who might read that periodical. It is very important to know your audience because you will craft your essay for a specific audience.

Imagine you are writing an essay on Adolf Hitler’s influence on Nazi Germany. If this essay is for your teacher, what sort of vocabulary and language will you use? Now imagine this essay is to introduce World War II to an elementary class. How will your vocabulary and language change? For your teacher, you will use advanced words and professional terminology. For the elementary class, you will need to use simple words and phrases because those students will have a very limited knowledge of Nazi Germany.

Realizing how your terminology and attitude might change depending on your audience will directly affect your tone. In the example above, with your teacher as your audience, your tone should be serious and professional. On the other hand, your tone will be much lighter with an elementary class as your audience. You should omit some of the more gruesome aspects of the war, like the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s towards Jews, and speak in a more relaxed manner since the students are at such a young age. This will make your tone much more informal.


A final factor in setting the right tone is to determine the purpose of the essay. An author’s purpose is the reason for writing. There are three main types of author’s purpose: to persuade, to inform or to entertain. If you are trying to convince your reader to believe or to do something, then you are persuading. A purpose to inform means your goal is to give information and to teach your audience. Finally, to entertain means to amuse and be interesting to your audience. Besides these three main ones, there are many other types of purpose for an essay, like to describe and to express.

Once you decide on your purpose for your essay, be sure to keep it in mind as you write. One way to do this is to write a clear and detailed thesis statement, which is one sentence outlining the main idea of the whole essay. For example, a thesis statement for a persuasive essay on recycling might be, ‘Recycling should be mandated to all citizens because it saves our natural resources and reduces waste all while costing very little.’ If each paragraph relates back to this thesis, then your whole essay will be persuasive.

Once you decide on your purpose, you must be sure to have a tone that falls within that field. For instance, imagine you are writing a persuasive essay trying to convince others to recycle paper. How would it sound if you include sarcastic comments degrading those who didn’t recycle? That would probably offend a lot of people and turn them off of your argument. This kind of tone is inappropriate with a purpose to persuade. Instead, you should be respectful of other’s opinions and try to speak directly to your reader. Also, you should provide examples and evidence to support your idea. This respectful attitude and relevant statistics will persuade the reader more than a sarcastic, demeaning tone.

Secondly, for an essay with a purpose to inform, be sure to provide logical and realistic facts absent of personal opinion and bias. For example, if you are writing an essay on the process of recycling, you should not try to persuade your audience to recycle. You should include only information on how recycling works and any explanations to the process. This will lead to a formal and professional tone, which will make sure your audience will learn from your essay.

Finally, for entertaining essays, you need to be sure to include details that your audience will find interesting. For example, with an entertaining purpose, you might write an essay detailing your trip to a recycling plant with descriptions of the interesting things you experienced. The tone for this type of essay is usually much more informal. Personal opinions will probably be included, and your tone will really depend on the type of interesting details you include.

Lesson Summary

To review, there are three concepts to determine before you begin writing your essay: the tone, the audience and the purpose.

The tone is the attitude of the writer. Two factors that greatly affect the tone are audience and purpose. The audience of an essay is anyone who might read it. You need to know who will be reading your essay so that you can use appropriate terminology and expressions. Who will be reading your essay should greatly affect your expressions and tone. A formal tone should be used with a formal audience, like your teacher, while a relaxed tone can be used with an audience of your fellow classmates.

The purpose of an essay is your reason for writing. This could be to persuade, to inform or to entertain. If you are aiming to persuade, then you need to include details that will convince your reader to believe or do something. If you are writing to inform, then you need to include rational facts and logical explanations. If you are writing to entertain, you need to grab your reader’s interest. Your tone should fall in line with your determined purpose.

Overall, if you have correctly identified your audience and purpose and have used appropriate terminology and expressions throughout the entire essay, you will be sure to strike the right tone.

Learning Outcomes

By the time time you are done with this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall the different tones that can be used in an essay
  • Explain the importance of considering your audience in planning your essay
  • Name and discuss the three main essay purposes
  • State the importance and purpose of a thesis