How to Determine the Writer's Tone and Point-of-View

Video Lesson on Author Purpose: Definition and Examples

Writers give us many clues to help us understand why they write. In this lesson, we're going to check out the concepts of tone and point of view to see how they can be used to better understand a passage.

Reading as the Author Intended

Imagine being able to read someone's mind. That would be sweet. You'd be able to understand their attitudes, emotions, beliefs and reasons for doing things. Unfortunately, we can't read minds, but we can read. When authors create a written work of either fiction or nonfiction, they put clues into it to help us understand their own attitudes, emotions, beliefs and motivations. It's not mind reading, but reading a passage from the authors' perspectives may be the next best thing.

Tone

So, how can we understand an author's intentions through the written work? One of the best places to start is by analyzing the tone. The tone of a passage is its mood, atmosphere or feeling. It's the overall attitude of the piece. For example, some pieces have very serious tones that range from stoic and academic to solemn and depressing. Others have uplifting tones that are happy, optimistic or humorous. And some pieces have tones that are cynical, satirical or sarcastic.

Now, let's start by asking this question: What tone do we expect the passage to have? If this is an academic essay, we might expect a more formal tone. If it's a blog, we might expect a more personal tone. An editorial is likely to be informative but casual, and maybe a bit satiric.

Building up this expectation also requires us to ask who the intended audience is. If the authors are writing for teenagers, they will use different language and tone than if they are writing for a board of stockholders. Developing an expectation can help us look for clues in the passage, but it's important to not get too wrapped up in it. Authors do like to try and surprise us.

Next, we can look at the actual passage itself. The tone is largely generated by the author's word choice. So, what kinds of words does the author use? Is the language formal, academic or lofty? Or is it more colloquial, accessible and relatable? Additionally, and this is important, does the author use figurative language, or words that are not used in their literal sense? For example, does the author use metaphors, similes, hyperbole or personification? Figurative language can be very helpful in identifying the tone of the piece, since it can create a strong impression.

Point of View

Now that we've started to identify the tone, we can move on to identifying the author's point of view. Basically, we are trying to figure out why the author wrote this and what he or she wants us to take away from it. Since we've already started working with tone, we can use that as our first clue to uncover the author's perspective. Imagine that we read a passage on the city's new policy that cell phones should be banned. If the author was upbeat and optimistic, perhaps they are supportive of the ban. If the tone is pessimistic, critical or sarcastic, the author probably doesn't support this policy. If the tone is neutral or academic, the author may be interested in presenting information without getting emotionally involved.

Next, we can look a little more deeply at what creates this tone. Does the author use lots of emotional statements? Or is the information clearly and factually presented? How the author creates their tone can communicate their opinions as well as their biases. For this reason, we need to always consider what the author does not say, as well as what they do. Did the author include multiple perspectives? Or do they only support one side? If this is a work of fiction, which opinions are supported by protagonists versus antagonists? The answers to these questions can help us understand the author's point of view and, therefore, his or her reason for writing and what they want us to take away the passage. You might as well be reading their mind.

Lesson Summary

Authors leave us many clues as to their attitudes and opinions in their writings. One great way to identify this is to look at the tone of the piece, or its mood, atmosphere or feeling. To identify tone, try to identify the genre of writing and the desired audience, and look at how the author uses language. Once you've identified the tone, it can be used to help find the author's point of view, or perspective. You need to remember to look at what the author says and what is omitted, or not said, to identify biases and opinions. With these tools, you can practically turn the reading of a passage into the reading of an author's mind.

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