How to Write a Tone Analysis Essay

The narrator's humorous tone in Elizabeth Gaskell's novel
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Tone refers to the attitude of a writer toward the subject he is writing about. A writer can convey his attitude directly, by stating his opinion, or indirectly, through his choice of vocabulary and stylistic elements. As an essay writer, your job consists of investigating the purpose or significance of the author's tone.

1 Every Text Contains an Emotion

Relationships, love, politics, a person, the past or life in general can all serve as subjects a writer could maintain an attitude or opinion toward, conveyed through diction, punctuation, sentence structure or other technical or poetic elements. Key to determining the tone of a text is discerning the writer's emotion, which could include humor, seriousness, sarcasm, cheerfulness, anger and much more, whether in fiction or nonfiction. Even a business brochure conveys a formal, professional tone of voice; sincerity, solemnity and frankness count as emotions too. A sales flier might present product prices enthusiastically, with hyperbolic expressions such as "Can't be beat" or "Hurry in before it's too late," followed by multiple exclamation marks.

2 Every Emotion Has a Reason

Once you've determined the writer's attitude or approach to the theme or subject matter, you must also establish its significance. In other words, you need to convince your reader why the tone of this text is important to the rest of the text, or what point the writer is trying to convey, whether deliberately or inadvertently, through the tone. For example, in the Victorian comedy novel "Cranford," the narrator speaks of the village of Cranford in both a humorous and affectionate tone, noting that the people of Cranford have their own little quirky beliefs and "isms" -- such as "sour-grapeism "-- but also endearingly describing Cranford as leaving people feeling "peaceful and satisfied." Humor, which exposes the silly, artificial customs of class that Cranford clings to, and affection, which sees the benefits of these customs, work together to ironically demonstrate how superficial societal rules can build genuine, loving community. This argument about how tone -- in this case, humor and affection -- functions in a novel constitutes a sound, debatable thesis.

3 Every Solid Thesis Requires Proof

To prove such a thesis, an essay writer needs to carefully comb through the novel "Cranford" to find examples where seemingly artificial customs actually demonstrate or produce community. Precise definitions of terms, such as "community" and "custom," help strengthen an essay's persuasiveness by adding clarity, hindering any objections a reader may have. Each example from the text that illustrates themes, such as custom and community, must also include a discussion of their relation to the dominant tone or tones of the text, in this case humor and affection. Readers should be able to maintain a continuous understanding of the connection between the role of tone (as declared in the thesis) and the specific evidence presented subsequently.

4 Every Essay Follows a Structure

As with a typical essay, the evidence for the thesis should follow in the body paragraphs of the essay. The standard number of major proofs, or premises, of an essay is three, and each usually requires one paragraph or more. The thesis about tone belongs in the introductory paragraph, and definitions about relevant terms or any introductory discussion of the importance or definition of tone belong here as well. In the case of an essay about "Cranford," some observations about the surprising findings regarding the positive outcomes of societal customs might effect an interesting conclusion.

Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.