How many times did you hear the phrase “tone and voice” in English class? You thought you didn’t need it, but now you’ve sent an email to your coworker that was supposed to be professional but apparently came across as passive-aggressive, or texted a friend with congratulations that read dry and unfeeling, or sent an email to your boss about a project and used just one too many exclamation points.
“Tone and voice” can be easy to mix up, especially when they’re said together so often. They’re distinct ideas, but they both point to the same thing: your way of expressing yourself. Unlike spelling, grammar, and punctuation, tone and voice have to do with how you express what you’re saying—not the accuracy of the rules.
Speaking voice, writing voice
Think about the way people in your life speak. There’s something to the cadence of your mom’s voice when she greets you on the phone, the way your best friend uses big adjectives to describe small things, the consistent way the barista at your local coffee shop says “Good morning!”
These unmistakable style quirks are called voice when applied to writing. Your writing voice can consist of words you do or don’t use when you write, turns of phrase you’re fond of, the way you write a sentence, or the way you structure an argument—your voice is the fingerprint you leave on your writing so that someone can identify it as yours. See More . . .