Mic Check 1-2: Audience and Tone in Writing

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13656

Strong writing has a purpose, is tailored to a specific audience, and has an appropriate tone to match those intentions. Read on to learn how writers use purpose, tone, and audience effectively.


Preparing for College, Writing

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Take a look at the closing of George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States, courtesy of the U.S. Government Publishing Office, which announced his stepping down from the presidency in 1796:

Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize without alloy the sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst of my fellow citizens the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors and dangers.

  • What can you infer about the intended audience of this letter?
  • Who is Washington speaking to with these words?

When making inferences about Washington's intended audience:

  • Did you think he might have been addressing children?
  • What about women? Or maybe businesses?


While the language may have seemed more formal on the whole in 1796 than it does today, you can infer that a presidential address is typically a more formal type of writing.

Considering who Washington would have been appealing to in this announcement (the portion of the public that had a stake in voting and political affairs), the audience is further limited to primarily White male landowners.


Audience is an important part of writing. You want to tailor your language, tone, and approach to the readers you hope to reach.

You wouldn't write a letter to your principal requesting a policy change or to your boss to give your resignation in the same way you would write to a friend from summer camp.

This is why the audience is one of the first things a writer must consider when planning a text. Once the audience is determined, it's time to consider intent (purpose) and tone.


When someone sits down to write something, there is always a reason for the piece being written. This is called the author's intent.

There are three basic reasons for an author to write:

  • to persuade
  • to entertain
  • to inform

It is usually easy to determine intent. All one needs to do is read the piece and decide why it was written.

Here is an example:

In order to have a good interview with a prospective employer, there are a few things that one must do. First, you need to look nice for the interview. Wear something nice, perhaps a suit or skirt suit, and keep jewelry, makeup, and other accessories to a minimum. Also, remove any excessive piercings and cover any visible tattoos. Next, bring an extra copy of your well-written resumé to hand to the person interviewing. They probably already have a copy, but it is nice to hand them one in case they don't have it within arm's reach. When answering questions in an interview, make sure to be honest, curb the use of slang or jargon, and answer professionally. The last interview hint is to make sure that you are ready to ask interviewers a question about the job you want.

  • What is the intent of this piece?
  • Is it to persuade you to go to an interview?
  • Is it to inform you about how to do well at an interview?
  • Is it to entertain you about the interview process?


This piece was written to inform someone about the interview process. One can tell that this piece was written to inform because it gives facts without persuasion, and it does not make any attempt to entertain the reader.


The tone of a piece of writing is the emotion behind what is being said. If a character is very downtrodden, his tone might be one of sadness or depression.

When asked to find the tone in a piece of writing, you need to identify the emotion being conveyed by the author or characters.

There are many types of tone. Almost any emotion can be conveyed as tone.

Examples of tone include:

  • enthusiastic
  • silly
  • apathetic
  • sarcastic
  • empathetic
  • sad
  • creepy
  • anticipation
  • matter-of-fact
  • heartbreaking
  • listless
  • romantic
  • cranky
  • pathetic
  • depressed


Read the passage below and think of the emotion it shows:

It was a dark and stormy Saturday night. Ainsley was sitting alone on the couch when she heard a knocking, and then the lights went out. She tried to convince herself that the knocking was just a branch on the window and that a transformer had been blown by the storm, but she was still scared. After sitting completely still for a long minute, she tried to breathe slowly without screaming. She was scared that air in her lungs would cause her to make noise. As she started to get her breathing under control, she heard a quiet crack from the other room. She thought she was in the house alone, but now she was second-guessing that idea.

  • What is the tone in this piece of writing?
  • What emotions does this character feel?

[Insert dark and stormy image 219828637]

Suspense. This piece gives an air of suspense to the readers.

Tone contributes to writing whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Think of it as similar to the tone of voice people use when speaking.

When writing a persuasive essay, you have to determine if you want to be aggressive with your arguments or logical. Or perhaps you'll want to make a more emotional appeal.

In branding, companies have to create a voice for the brand or product they are promoting to build an audience. The tone is a subtle, but effective, way of influencing your audience.


Read the example passages below and consider the questions that follow:

Example One:

Voting is important. Your political views do not matter, but it does matter if you do not perform your civic duty to learn and vote for the candidate that you support the most. There are some people who do not think their vote counts, but if no one voted, how would our democracy be any different than a country without democracy? It wouldn't. So, make sure that you are getting out there and voting each time an election comes around.

  • What is the intent of this piece?
  • Is it to persuade you to vote?
  • Is it to inform you about voting?
  • Is it to entertain you about voting?

This one is a bit more tricky.

First, we can rule out the idea that this was written to entertain someone. It isn't entertaining.

Next, we ask whether this is an informative piece. Yes, it does have some information in it, but is that all it is trying to do? No, because at the very beginning of the piece it tells you that you must perform your civic duty because what you have to say is important.

This is obviously trying to persuade you to vote.

  • What is the tone of this piece?

The writer is using a logical and encouraging tone to appeal to the reader. You might also consider this tone slightly authoritative, confident, assertive, or coach-like.

Example Two:

Joey and Chandler were running down the street when they saw the funniest thing they had ever seen. They saw a ridiculously sized caterpillar walking down the street. As they got closer to the caterpillar, they noticed that each segment of the caterpillar was a giant balloon. Once they were even closer, they realized that inside each balloon was a man or woman hopping along. All of a sudden, all of the balloons popped and confetti rained down. The men and women all disappeared with a loud beeping noise. Just then, Chandler woke up and realized he must have dreamed the entire event.

  • What is the intent of this piece?
  • Is it to persuade you?
  • Is it to inform you?
  • Is it to entertain you?

The important part to remember here is that we are looking for the purpose of the piece. It doesn't have to succeed in that purpose, but it is working toward that goal.

The intent of this piece was to entertain the reader. The piece may not have entertained you, but you can absolutely tell that it wasn't out there to persuade you about caterpillars or inform you about dreams.

  • What is the tone of this piece?

The author is describing a very unrealistic, exaggerated event. The tone is silly, hyperbolic, over-the-top, and light-hearted.

  • Are you feeling pretty confident about your understanding of the audience, intent, and tone?

Click through to the Got It? section to test your knowledge!

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