Writing in Academic Tone

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13436

Academic writing can be like a new language if you don't know the basics. This lesson will introduce you to the concept and give you the foundation you need to write strong academic essays.



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Do you speak to your friends the same way you do to your boss or teacher?
  • How about your family?
  • If there are differences, why do you think that is?

set the tone

Tone in writing is choosing your words and how you use them to convey a certain attitude or feeling. Tone is tied closely to voice.

Let's find out how to develop your voice in academic writing!

Recognizing Tone

friends playing telephone

Let's look at a couple of examples to recognize differences in tone.

First, consider a parent saying the following things:

1   "How many times do I have to tell you to put your dirty clothes in the hamper?! If I have to pick them up one more time, I swear I'll go crazy!"  


2   "I've noticed your dirty clothes are still landing on your floor instead of in the hamper. What is something you could do to remind yourself to put them in the hamper?"  


  • How would you feel in the first scenario?
  • How would you feel in the second?

The differences in the mood each interaction creates is the tone.

When you write academically, the tone needs to be more professional than personal writing because you are trying to present yourself as having the authority to speak on whatever issue you are addressing.

This means detaching yourself a little more than you would in, say, a personal narrative essay or a personal opinion essay.

Let's take a look at an example of this difference:

1   Cantaloupe is the worst fruit; I can't stand it. The taste is disgusting, I don't like the texture, and it ruins all the other fruits it touches. This melon is so squash-like it shouldn't even be in the melon category. It's just an extra sweet butternut squash in disguise. I've never liked it, and nothing could ever make me enjoy eating this garbage fruit.  


2   Melons are considered a delicious summertime treat, but there are hidden concerns that are often unknown. For example, cantaloupes have a glycemic index of 65, which is high. It has nine grams of sugar per serving and is 90% water. This can cause digestive troubles because it requires little digestion and moves to the intestines rapidly. When eaten after other foods, this can cause indigestion. Also, because of the high water and sugar content, which are two things bacteria need in order to flourish, it can quickly spread bacteria throughout the gut.  


  • What differences in tone do you notice?
  • What specific word choices contribute to the tone of each piece?
  • Which one does a better job of convincing readers? How?

Consider Your Audience

Tone and audience go hand in hand. In other words, your audience informs what kind of tone you should use in your writing.

In academic writing, your audience is often your teacher and classmates in a literal sense, but it should be imagined that it is also experts in the field about which you are writing or other intelligent people interested in learning more about the information you are presenting.

Imagine more of a TED talk audience rather than an argument with your friends over pizza.

public speaking audience

Comparing Formal and Informal Writing Styles

Both informal and formal writing styles have their place! But in the classroom, you'll usually find yourself writing academic essays in a formal style.

Watch Formal vs Informal Writing: What's the Difference and When to Use Them, from EzineArticles, to understand how different tones are better suited for different audiences and purposes:

Tips for Establishing Academic Tone

These tips will help you edit your writing quickly to ensure you're using an appropriate tone for academic essays and assignments.

Write them down in your notebook or save them to your computer for easy reference when you need them.

  • Avoid directly addressing your reader. Until you become very comfortable with academic language, it is best to write in third person (many teachers require it).
  • Avoid using contractions (e.g. it's, can't, should've, etc.). These constructions establish a more casual tone than is generally appropriate in academic writing.
  • Use first-person pronouns sparingly and with careful consideration.
  • Avoid casual or conversational phrases. If it sounds like your train of thought put on paper, you might want to revise until it sounds a little less personal. You don't want to write like a robot, but your essay shouldn't read like a diary entry either.
  • Text abbreviations are almost never acceptable. Do not use numbers in place of letters, replace "you" with "u," or use acronyms like "btw."
  • Consulting sources is generally a good idea, even if it isn't assigned as a research paper. It helps to establish credibility. Just be sure to cite the sources you use appropriately! An online citation generator, like Scribbr, takes the guesswork out of all the confusing rules of MLA and APA styles.

When you are ready to test your knowledge, move on to the Got It? page to find out how well you've mastered academic tone!

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