Web Literacy: Tone

HumanitiesWeb Literacy
Life SkillsWeb Literacy

Transcript

00:11

What does tone convey in writing?

00:14

Tone is just the author's attitude toward whatever they're writing.

00:17

Plain and simple.

00:19

One really important thing is to not confuse tone and style.

00:23

Tone and writing style are two different things.

00:24

People confuse them all the time.

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If you go to any of our Shmoop guides,

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you'll see a section on tone and a section on style.

00:29

So that can help you figure that out.

00:31

Writing style is like getting into the nitty-gritty.

00:35

"Short sentences" or "Doesn't use punctuation."

00:39

Or you might call someone Hemingway-esque.

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That's because of the writing style -

00:43

short sentences, very simple.

00:44

The tone is the author's attitude toward what they're writing.

00:48

So that would be, "The author's writing is ironic"

00:53

or "It's cynical" or whatever the case is.

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Some examples:

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Nick Carraway, probably the most famous narrator

01:00

in all of literature --

01:02

all of American literature.

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This is a cynical narrator.

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And sometimes the author's attitude toward the text

01:10

comes through the narrator in this case.

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Other times it's the author themselves

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when there's a third person omniscient narrator.

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But Nick Carraway is a cynical narrator.

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He is saying what he thinks,

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and he doesn't like what he sees.

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He'll say things like,

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"Oh, I felt like I was talking to a child."

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Or, "These people -- They're idiots, basically."

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He's looking at what's happening

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around him and judging it.

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And so while Fitzgerald's style may be one way or another,

01:40

and while he may use insanely big words --

01:44

these like five-dollar words and we don't understand any of it,

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that's the writing style.

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The tone is cynical.

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The tone is how Nick Carraway,

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and thus Fitzgerald,

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feels about what is happening in the plot.

01:55

Then we compare that to

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something like Orwell.

01:59

Like Animal Farm.

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So George Orwell was an essayist.

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So his tone is a lot more removed. We'd call that objective.

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He writes, you know, reading Animal Farm,

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and he'll just be like,

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"The pigs tore each other to shreds."

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Like no judgment.

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There's no, "And that was bad." or "And that was good."

02:18

Right, so it's a journalist.

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It's actively neutral.

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Exactly, exactly.

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And that brings up kind of a big issue with tone.

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What tone allows us to see

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is whether a text is subjective or objective.

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We're talking about literature here,

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but for what pertains to this course,

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and we're talking about web literacy.

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This is how you can tell

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if a source on the Internet is objective or subjective.

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Objective means it's just the facts.

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The author's opinion and attitude is not in there.

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And I can argue, though, how could it not be?

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In that that's a conscious decision.

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And by making it appear as if it's just the facts,

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you get this journalistic --

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Or what journalism used to be 50 years ago.

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You get this journalistic credibility

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- that it's actually honest and it's not politically biased - Yeah.

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- and so on. - Yeah, you're one step ahead of me.

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That's exactly right.

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So even -- We go back to Orwell.

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Clearly Orwell was trying to make a point with Animal Farm.

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He was not objective.

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But when you write in a way that makes it seem like you're objective,

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you sound more credible.

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That's why it's very dangerous,

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especially with sources on the web,

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to just say, like you said, "It's a journal article.

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It's from the New York Times or it's from whatever it's from.

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Oh, yeah, it's news."

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No. You have to look at a lot of different issues,

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which we'll get to.

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But the first step in figuring out

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if you can trust a source on the Internet

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is to decide

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are we leaning toward objective

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or are we leaning toward subjective?

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Some pieces, as you mentioned,

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are written, "Oh this is totally objective."

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whether or not it is.

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Others are written with no pretense of being objective.

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An opinion piece in a newspaper.

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And you know right then and there,

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"Okay, this is gonna be subjective."

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And knowing whether something is objective or subjective

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changes a ton about how you read it.

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But again, that all brings us back to tone.

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What is the author's attitude toward a text?

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When an author's attitude is absent,

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it is objective.

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When an author's attitude is fully there,

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it is subjective. And there's a range.

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But figuring out what that tone is

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is gonna really help you determine the credibility of a source.

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Understood. And some of the clues I know that I think about

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when I read writers.

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Often it's the sources they cite.

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And then that gives deep clarity

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for what the author believes.

04:27

Definitely. Sources are a huge way

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to tell what an author's tone is.

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Really the main way you determine tone,

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whether it's in literature or in an online article,

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is through the word choice.

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You can think of it really simply --

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I think the example we give in our literature glossary online

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is if you're saying, "Dave creeped across the room

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and moved gently toward his office."

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We get like, "Okay, something's going on here.

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What's happening?"

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Versus "Dave walked to his office."

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We're saying the same exact thing,

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but we're using different words.

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So word choice, which we call diction, really affects

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the tone of the piece.

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All right, two words: words matter.

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Tone.

05:10

[ pen writing ]

05:13

What is tone?

05:14

What is writing style?

05:17

How does the tone help you understand a source's credibility?

05:22

What is objective/subjective writing?

05:30

[ sings note ]

05:32

Yeah, it's not that.