You’ve got your online shop up and running, with solid products, a great logo, and a unique design.
But the words you use are just as important as the font you pick. They’re key to unlocking connections with your customers.
An author’s word choice—or, more precisely, an author’s tone—can shape a piece of writing and influence the reader. Understanding how to leverage writing tone is a skill that can make you a better marketer and improve your business.
Here’s a primer on understanding tone and the ways you can refine your writing style to connect with your target audience.
What is tone in writing?
Tone refers to a writer’s attitude or perspective, and the feelings conveyed in their writing. Many elements convey a writer’s tone, including word choice, sentence structure, sentence length, and punctuation.
You might associate tone with creative writing, like poetry, prose, and scripts. Tone is also an important element of copywriting and plays a part in how you communicate with customers.
Tone is important for businesses because it is the way you show your brand’s personality.
Word choices are key to connecting with a target audience, which is why the tone is often influenced by market research.
Picking the right writing tone can help you build brand trust, urge action, and make your brand stand out.
15 types of tone in writing
It is important to consider the intention, feeling, and action behind what you're writing and match it with the right tone.
A formal tone is about being objective. The author keeps an emotional distance from the subject and uses third-person perspective, with no reference of “I” or “you.” A formal tone conveys authority and trust, which can be effective with older customers.
For example: Founded in 1884, the bank has served some of the nation’s most profitable companies, whose businesses range from agriculture to nanotechnology.
An informal tone is a relaxed dialogue, sometimes described as a conversational tone. It speaks directly to the reader, using the pronouns “I” and “we” to build an emotional connection. It uses colloquial phrases to appear relatable, while simple, short sentences add excitement.
For example: Ever wonder if there was a way to make a longer-lasting set of bedsheets? Well, so did we.
An optimistic tone projects hope and positivity. This makes it a popular choice among marketers. It focuses on the upside, but you can acknowledge challenges. The goal here is to use uplifting language to inspire your audience into action.
For example: You never know when you’ll round the corner and come face-to-face with the person of your dreams. Why not greet them with the freshest breath possible?
A cooperative tone evokes camaraderie and mutual participation, which can be a great choice for internal memos. The writer speaks directly to the reader, pointing out shared struggles, successes, values, and beliefs. Using the pronoun “we” builds trust and inspires action with readers and customers.
For example: Our company rises and falls as a team. As we bond and build greater understanding, our accomplishments will reach new heights.
A friendly tone suggests a familiar bond between the author and the reader. This makes it one of the more popular informal tones used for marketing. Establishing trust is easy with a friendly tone, as it is warm and kind, and invites an instant connection. Exclamation marks and emojis are often used here, just like your texts to a friend.
For example: We understand why you need the very best for your four-legged friend. We’re pet owners, too.
A humorous tone can lighten a mood and entertain your reader. Humor can help humanize your brand and lighten the mood. When done well, it helps your brand stand out, just be sure your audience gets your sense of humor.
For example: You may be smarter than me, better looking than me, and more talented than me, but I guarantee you this: There’s no way you’re clumsier than me!
A satirical tone is a subset of humor and a bold choice. Satire mocks something in culture, often in subtle, dry ways. It uses irony, parody and criticism to show a brand’s attitude toward a subject. Satire is memorable, which can make your brand stand out, but risks being misunderstood.
For example: Some thought the CEO had everything—money, status, and immense power. But there was one thing missing: a self-indulgent weekly podcast.
An assertive tone gets to the point and pulls no punches. It tells the reader what they need to hear, without apology. It can be the perfect tone for communicating health and safety information. It persuades customers to take action with clear, authoritative words.
For example: If your home was built before 1980, you may be at risk of lead poisoning from your pipes. Call the city right away for a free pipe inspection.
A dry, matter-of-fact tone gets to the point efficiently, and it emphasizes facts over emotions. You establish authority and trust with a dry tone. It is useful when writing about serious subjects.
For example: Hot water tanks last an average of 10 years. You can extend the life of your tank with regular maintenance.
A technical tone takes a dry tone a step further by delving into technical specs that describe a product or service. It’s one of the most common tones for user manuals. Technical writing often shuns full words for abbreviations and measurements. When your target audience is made up of professionals and subject matter experts, this tone shows credibility and authority.
For example: The Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 turbofan spins at 2683 RPM.
A cheerful tone reveals a positive outlook. It uses a conversational style, as though the author is sharing their personal optimism with their audience. Authors frequently pepper cheerful writing with exclamation points and emojis. It is effective in engaging audiences and sparking action.
For example: Summer is the season for fun! Grab your theme park season tickets and get ready for nonstop rides and splashdowns!
A curious tone creates a sense of mystery and may leave a reader intrigued about what’s to come. Marketers use a curious tone to tease a new product and get customers excited. It is used to attract customers and encourage them to engage with your brand, especially on social media.
For example: Your smartphone is an all-in-one computer, camera, and entertainment system that fits right into your pocket. But is that all it can be?
A nostalgic tone summons images and feelings from the past. Through the use of certain words and phrasing, nostalgic language can make a reader emotional as they recall personal experiences. Use this tone to make your brand more relatable to your target audience, by showing you identify with their experiences.
For example: Remember Saturday mornings? Waking up to the best cartoons, the tastiest cereal, a full day of possibilities?
An inspirational tone can improve a reader’s confidence and prompt them to take action. Writers use figurative language, literary devices, and strong imagery to convey this tone. In marketing, it can encourage customers to start or try something new. Watch how often you use this tone, as overuse can appear cheesy.
For example: A career is like a mountain, and you’re halfway from basecamp to the summit. The next leg will be the most challenging part of the journey, but you’ll be ready.
An urgent tone asks readers to take action, often because time is of the essence. It’s an excellent choice for promoting a limited-time sale. It is important to use this tone in a sincere, helpful way, or you’ll risk annoying customers and eroding their trust in your brand.
For example: Now through Saturday! It’s the biggest sale of the year, and items will be flying off the shelves.
How to develop your tone
Developing your tone as a writer takes practice and a sense of purpose. Here are three techniques for mastering the use of tone in writing:
- Study great writing. Nearly every skilled writer is also a committed reader. Read avidly and observe the language, sentence structure, and punctuation that other authors use to convey different tones.
- Make time to practice. Challenge yourself by describing the same items or services using different tones. You could start with a formal tone, switch to a laid back tone, and then use an assertive tone to convey the same message. Artificial intelligence (AI) writing tools can help you rewrite copy in various tones, giving you examples to work from.
- Pick a signature tone. As a small business owner, you may find that one overall tone especially suits your marketing materials. Once you’ve identified it, consider creating a style guide and brand guidelines that match your signature tone with your overall brand personality.
Writing tone FAQ
How does the writer’s tone affect the reader’s experience of a piece of writing?
Depending on the author’s tone, a person might feel inspired to delve into research, sign up for a mailing list, or make a purchase. If the author’s tone does not resonate with the reader, they may tune out entirely.
Can a writer’s tone change throughout a single piece of writing?
Yes, writers do change tone in the same piece of writing. Sales copy might start with an urgent tone to prompt a desire to take action, then pivot to an inspirational tone to show how a product can improve the reader’s life.
Is it possible for a writer’s tone to be misinterpreted by readers?
Yes. This happens in the case of a humorous or sarcastic tone—which does not always come through on the page. Therefore, some writers choose not to use it.
Is it possible to have a neutral writer’s tone?
Yes, many different writing tones come across as neutral. These include a dry tone, a technical tone, a factual tone, a scientific tone, and a clinical tone.