Once you have revised your paper for organization and cohesion, you can begin revising to improve style and tone. Together, your style and tone create the voice of your paper, or how you come across to readers; you should be consistent throughout the paper. Style refers to how you use language meaning the technical aspects of writing: your sentence structures and word choices. Part of style is your writing tone: the attitude toward your subject and audience. Tone may include a level of formality and objectivity or may be intimate and personal. Tone is conveyed through your word choices.
Figure 8.2: Style and tone of writing
Determining an appropriate style and tone
To avoid being overly formal or informal, determine an appropriate style and tone. Consider your topic and audience, because these will dictate your style and tone. For example, a paper on new breakthroughs in cancer research should be more formal than a paper on ways to get a good night’s sleep. A strong paper comes across as straightforward, appropriately academic, and serious.
Here are some tips for ensuring your paper has an appropriate style and tone:
- Avoid excessive wordiness.
- All sentences contribute to the main idea.
- Sentences are varied in length and structure.
- Use the active voice whenever possible.
- Define specialized terms that might be unfamiliar to readers.
- Use clear, straightforward language whenever possible and avoid unnecessary jargon.
- State your point of view using a balanced tone – neither too indecisive nor too forceful.
- Use precise language, convey no unintended connotations, and ensure your paper is free of bias.
- Do not use vague or imprecise terms or slang.
- Do not continually repeat the same phrases (“Smith states…,” “Jones states…”) to introduce quoted and paraphrased material.
- Ensure you understand the meanings of all the terms you use in your paper.
- Do not use outdated or offensive terms to refer to specific groups, e.g., ethnic, racial, religious groups.
Keeping your style and tone consistent
As you revise your paper, make sure your style and tone is consistent throughout. Look for instances where a word, phrase, or sentence does not seem to fit with the rest of the writing. It is best to re-read for style after you have completed the other revisions so that you are not distracted by any larger content issues.
Revising strategies can include the following:
- Read your paper aloud. Sometimes your ears catch inconsistencies that your eyes miss.
- Share your paper with another reader who you trust to give honest feedback. It is difficult to evaluate one’s own style objectively, especially in the final phase of a challenging writing project. Another reader may be more likely to notice wordiness, confusing language, or other issues that affect style and tone. Whoever you share it with, make sure that they note any suggested changes so that you can consider them. One option is to use track changes tool in Word.
- Edit your paper slowly, sentence by sentence. You could try using a sheet of paper to cover up everything on the page except the paragraph you are editing, forcing you to read slowly and carefully. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then rework those sections.
Using plural nouns and pronouns can help you keep your language gender-neutral and inclusive. For example, the following sentence is gender-biased: When a writer cites a source in the body of his paper, it should be listed on the reference page. An improved version is: Writers must list any sources cited in the body of a paper on the reference page. This is new shift in writing. Thus, it is best to speak with your instructor about gender neutrality and whether plural pronouns are appropriate in the singular context.
Adapted, with editorial changes, from:
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