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Scholarly Voice: Tone and Audience

Tone and Audience

The concepts of tone and audience are interwoven with many topics addressed throughout the Scholarly Voice pages. The purpose of this page is to define these concepts as they relate to writing, APA style, and capstone documents.

Basics of Tone

Tone refers to the attitude a writer conveys toward the subject matter and the reader. The tone of a document can affect how the reader perceives the writer’s intentions. These perceptions, in turn, can influence the reader’s attitude toward the text and the writer. To strike the right tone, writers should be mindful of the purpose and audience for their work when making decisions about word choice, sentence structure, and specificity of information.

Tone in APA Style

In APA style, the tone (see APA § 3.07) should reveal a writer’s attitude as interested but neutral and professional. Writers should present information and arguments in an engaging but objective manner and choose courteous and respectful language when providing critical analysis of the work of past researchers.

Examples:

Discourteous: However, the researchers completely neglected to consider. . .
Neutral: However, the researchers did not address. . .

 

Discourteous: Jones (2018) missed the point about. . . 
Neutral: Jones (2018) did not mention. . .

 

In the above examples, the first version appears to reveal assumptions and judgments about the previous researchers’ intentions or abilities. The revised versions present the same criticism but without the subjective and unduly harsh tone.

Tone in Capstone Writing

Capstone writers may have strong feelings or opinions about the problems they are addressing through their research. However, revealing personal attitudes through a subjective tone can make writers appear to take sides (e.g., in defense of the population they seek to help). In the spirit of scientific objectivity and professionalism, capstone writers should rely on compelling evidence and analysis rather than emotional appeals. Readers of APA-style writing expect logical, evidence-based arguments and critical but respectful discussion of previous research, and they may perceive emotionally charged, hyperbolic, or seemingly biased language as less credible. 

Certain words (e.g., unfortunately, clearly, heartbreaking, amazing, etc.) can reveal a subjective attitude and seem to impose the writer’s opinion instead of allowing readers to form their own opinions based on the presented information. Generally, such words can be omitted without taking away from the substance of the sentence. 

Example:

Subjective: Unfortunately, researchers have found that many health professionals lack the necessary health literacy awareness, knowledge, and skills.
Objective: Researchers have found that many health professionals lack the necessary health literacy awareness, knowledge, and skills.

Basics of Audience

The fundamental purpose of writing is to communicate ideas to other people—an audience. To do this effectively, writers should consider questions such as the following before and during the writing process: 

  • Who are the intended or likely readers for the document? 
  • What do these readers want and/or expect from the writer and from the text?  
  • What level of background knowledge do the readers probably have related to the subject matter? 

Answering these questions can help writers see the document from the viewpoint of the prospective audience and decide what to write and how to write it—that is, the content of the text and the form, style, and tone of that content. 

Audience for APA Style

Readers tend to approach a text with certain expectations based on their prior experience with texts in the same genre. Because of the emphasis in APA style on precision and clarity, readers have generally come to expect APA-style research writing to be clear, efficient, and logically organized, and they expect specific, credible information that is reported in a straightforward, unbiased manner. In other words, they expect clarity, objectivity, specificity, economy of expression, and professionalism. To communicate effectively with an APA-minded audience, writers should work to meet these expectations.

Audience for Capstone Writing

A capstone document shares many traits with research articles published in journals. However, because capstone writers are both student and researcher, they need to bear in mind two levels of audience: a smaller immediate audience and a somewhat broader eventual audience. 

Capstone writers’ immediate audience includes their committee, the URR, and the CAO, who evaluate the document and determine whether or when it moves forward in the capstone process. These readers serve in some ways as a trial audience, providing feedback to ensure that the document is ready for the larger audience. However, they have some capstone-specific expectations. For example, because capstone students are in the process of demonstrating their readiness to conduct research independently, faculty expect them to display mastery of certain research concepts or processes with a level of specificity that would be unnecessary in an article published in a journal.

The larger audience, at whom the bulk of the capstone document’s message is aimed, consists of interested researchers and professionals in the student’s field and related fields—in other words, the writer’s professional and academic peers. Capstone writers should keep this audience in mind throughout the writing process. Following the advice of faculty, the program checklist or rubric, and the guidelines in the APA manual will help capstone writers convey their message to these eventual readers.

Summary of Tone and Audience for the Capstone

A capstone document marks a writer’s debut as a member of a community of scholars. The attitude conveyed in this document necessarily reflects the position of a person displaying an understanding of certain research concepts and writing conventions while also contributing something new to the literature. By adopting an objective and professional tone and keeping the audience in mind, a writer can demonstrate awareness of and respect for other members of the scholarly community and ensure that readers are able to focus on the substance of the document.