3 Tricks to Figure out the Author's Tone

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Author's tone is simply an author's expressed attitude toward a particular written subject. It may not be his or her actual attitude as authors can certainly express an attitude other than their own. It's very different from the author's purpose! The tone of the article, essay, story, poem, novel, screenplay, or any other written work can be described in many ways. The author's tone can be witty, dreary, warm, playful, outraged, neutral, polished, wistful, reserved, and on and on. Basically, if there's an attitude out there, an author can write with it. To better understand tone, you should practice.

So, now that you know what it is, how can you determine the author's tone when you get to a reading comprehension test? Here are a few tricks to help you nail it every time.

Read the Introductory Info

On most major reading comprehension tests, the test makers will give you a little snippet of information along with the author's name prior to the text itself. Take these two examples from the ACT Reading test:

Passage 1: "This passage is adapted from the chapter “Personality Disorders” in Introduction to Psychology, edited by Rita L. Atkinson and Richard C. Atkinson (©1981 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.)."

Passage 2: "This passage is adapted from the novel The Men of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor (©1998 by Gloria Naylor)."

Without reading any portion of the text itself, you can already determine that the first text will have a more serious tone. The author writes in a scientific journal, so the tone will have to be more reserved. The second text could be anything at all, so when you're reading, you'll need to use another trick to determine the author's tone.

Watch Word Choice

Word choice plays a major part in the tone of a piece. If you look at the examples given in the "What is Author's Tone" article, you'll see how very different an identical situation can be by just the words an author chooses to use. Look at the following words and see how they reflect a different feeling, even though the words are similar in meaning.

  1. Sit in the sunshine and smile. Bask in the brilliant rays. Discover your giggle.
  2. Sit in the hot sun and smirk. Recline in the glaring rays. Hunt for that snicker. 
  3. Sit in the warm sun and grin. Relax in the warm rays. Look for a chuckle.

Even though all three sentences are written almost identically, the tones are very different. One is more relaxing—you can picture a lazy afternoon by the pool. The other is more joyful—maybe playing in the park on a sunny day. The other is definitely more sarcastic and negative, even though it's written about sitting in the sun.

Go With Your Gut

Often, a tone is tough to describe, but you know what it is. You get a particular feeling from the text—an urgency or a certain amount of sadness. You feel angry after reading it and can sense the author is angry, too. Or you find yourself chuckling throughout the text even though nothing comes right out and screams "funny!" So, on these kinds of texts, and the corresponding author's tone questions, trust your gut. And on the author's tone questions, hide the answers and make yourself come up with a guess before looking. Take this question for example:

The author of the article would most likely describe ballet as...

Before you get to the answer choices, try to finish the sentence. Put an adjective in there based on what you've read. Amusing? Essential? Cut-throat? Joyous? Then, when you've answered the question with a gut reaction, read the answer choices to see if your choice, or something similar, is there. More often than not, your brain knows the answer even if you doubt it!

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Your Citation
Roell, Kelly. "3 Tricks to Figure out the Author's Tone." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/tricks-to-figure-out-the-authors-tone-3211742. Roell, Kelly. (2020, August 29). 3 Tricks to Figure out the Author's Tone. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tricks-to-figure-out-the-authors-tone-3211742 Roell, Kelly. "3 Tricks to Figure out the Author's Tone." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tricks-to-figure-out-the-authors-tone-3211742 (accessed February 1, 2023).

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