A photograph of a male student sitting in a chair in a library, reading a book

Source: 03.01.11, colemama, Flickr

When you are reading a writer’s work, whether it’s a novel, short story, poem, or essay, it’s important to understand the writer’s tone, or attitude. Most writers will not come out and directly state their attitudes about their subjects, so it is up to you, the reader, to look for clues to indicate what the writer’s attitude is.

You already know what tone is in spoken language. It’s the way you speak in order to convey your thoughts. Think about a sad song you have heard. The sad tone is conveyed by the words the songwriter uses, as well as the way the melody is written and played. The words we use, the details we choose, and how we say them help create our tone. When you read, you can’t hear the words being spoken, so you need to depend on the writer’s diction, or choice of words, and the details the writer provides to understand the writer’s tone.

Irony is another tool writers may use to create tone. Irony is a literary technique used to create meaning that seems to contradict the literal meaning or events. Not all written works will contain irony, but those that do are certainly enjoyable to read. Here’s an example of irony:

It is pouring rain outside. Your friend comes up to you and says sarcastically, “Nice weather, isn’t it?” The words your friend has spoken, calling the weather “nice,” contradict what is actually happening with the weather outside. Your friend is being ironic.

How can you determine a writer’s tone? You can begin with the close reading of a text. Here’s how:

Let’s take a closer look at a text. This is what the result of a close reading might look like:

A photograph of a girl sitting in a chair reading a book

Source: Read@UTS, UTS Library, Flickr

As you read through the texts in this lesson, you will practice close reading strategies to help you understand a writer’s tone. You’ll be examining the writer’s choice of diction, details, and irony to identify the writer’s attitude. If you haven’t completed the lessons “Diction/Tone” or “Irony, Sarcasm, Paradox” in the Related Resources, you may want to do so before continuing with this practice lesson.