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

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  • 0:00 Reading as the Author Intended
  • 0:36 Tone
  • 2:37 Point of View
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

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.


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.

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