There are several levels of tone that you can adopt when you write depending on what you want a reader to think about your attitude toward the subject. The most important divisions in levels of tone are formal, semiformal, and informal.
What if you want to describe a summer job you had as a camp counselor? You hope to get another job at a child development center, so you need to describe to the manager what you did as a counselor. You also want to describe your summer work to a group of students at school during a discussion of vacation employment. Finally, you want to describe it to a good friend who will listen to you and help you vent about how the discussions went.
There are many ways to describe your work as a counselor. Look at the six possibilities below and choose whether each exemplifies formal, semiformal, or informal tone.
Now, let’s do some analysis to determine what makes the formal passages seem formal, what makes the informal ones seem informal, and what makes the semiformal passages seem to be somewhere in between.
Look at the two formal passages below. Click the words that seem to contribute to the formal tone. If you are correct, the word will be highlighted and you can read a comment.You should find 14 words or phrases.
Now, let’s look at the semiformal passages. Click the words that seem to contribute to the semiformal tone. If you are correct, the word will be highlighted, and you can read a comment. You should find 11 words or phrases.
Now, let’s look at the informal passages. Click the words that seem to contribute to the informal tone. If you are right, the word will be highlighted, and you can read a comment. You should find 10 words or phrases.
Some words are obviously formal, and some are obviously informal. There are also many words that straddle two levels such as “kids,” “live-wire,” and “just give up.” When you revise for tone, you should watch for examples of distractingly misplaced words and phrases. This is not a mechanical operation; it is a decision based on your ability to hear the tone.
Notice that sometimes an informal word can be used in a formal context, and even more frequently, formal words can be used in informal contexts. Often, these out-of-place words are used for humor or variety. Writers sometimes place them in quotation marks to indicate they differ from the rest of the text in tone.