Form(at) and Function

Last week in class we discussed voice and tone, starting with external factors that can influence tone. Context can include any external factor that might affect how a work of writing is completed.  Some features of context are very obvious and, in some ways, imposed on the author.  Limits on word count, deadlines and style guides all fall into this category.  Some context comes from what kind of writing is being done.   A piece of writing about the same subject will take on a different tone depending on what the purpose of the writing is.  A catalog description, academic paper and critical review of the same piece of art may take on wildly different tones.   Considering audience is also important, an academic audience has different background knowledge, vocabulary, and interests when compared to a general audience; generally speaking, these two should not be addressed with the same tone.

We discussed how the different connotations of a chosen word can imbue additional meaning to a text and went on to explore other features of a piece of writing that can be altered in order to reflect a different tone.  Choices that the writer makes, such as choice of words, grammar, tense, humor, syntax and sentence structure can all influence how a reader interprets the tone of a work.  For example. “It was good” reflects a tone very different to “The performance was spectacular and beautifully fulfilled the playwright’s vision.”  The author of the first is dispassionate and disintersted, not even bothering to think up any juicy language for his description.  THe second on the other hand leaves a more powerful impression and reflects the author’s conviction.

We also took time to distinguish voice from tone.  Whereas tone can vary from work to work by any author voice seems to be a more (though not completely) fixed feature of the author herself.  For me, the best way to define the difference between voice and tone is to think about whether or not the “feel” for the writing is reflective of the critic’s personality and general disposition rather than of her current mood or opinion about a given piece.  If a reader can identify a work of writing as being the work of X writer, the reader is probably picking up on the writer’s voice, regardless of what he is saying.

In thinking about the voice and tone I want to use as a writer, particularly for this class blog I think about the manner in which most people are going to be reading my writing. The format of a blog lends an informal air to my work and I feel a strong urge to hyperlink references and insert pictures as a sort of shorthand for my readers.  I’m grappling with the notion that this approach could reflect a lack of effort (towards writing) or it could simply mean an adaptation to the technology at hand.  Indeed a blog post, printed and presented in a magazine, would make little sense.  Perhaps it is not laziness but a novel way of bringing the reader along with my ideas?  If the function, or purpose, of my writing is to convey and substantiate my ideas, why not make use of the novel features of my chosen form(at)?


-Kate Moon



  1. Kate,
    Taking the approach of writing as if you’re bringing the readers along with your ideas doesn’t sound at all like a lack of effort! Actually, to me it seems like a way to establish intimacy with them that you wouldn’t necessarily get from a more formal source (where a blog post would indeed seem out of place). By using such an informal method to show them the contexts and sources that triggered your need to write, they could feel closer to you as a writer.

    -Hannah Jurgens


  2. From one Kate to another-
    I totally agree with Hannah on this one! I can see where you’re coming from and your concern for efforts in writing these blogs, but as a reader I think intention and the core of the post is what I’m looking for (even just when choosing which blog post to respond to). The addition of hyperlinks would definitely not read as any lack of effort to me, just the fact that you think to inform the reader and help them to understand where you’re coming from with photos or links would be going beyond the effort it takes to simply write your thoughts (in my opinion). I myself struggle with thoughts of formality when I write here, or even when I text or email someone for the first time, because I usually type in lowercase letters exclusively- I’ve gotten to the point that when I text my friends and they respond with proper grammar, I get nervous! Although this is kind of ridiculous of me, it makes me think of the choices we all have when we type. It’s always a choice, and I think going with your gut and feeling comfortable here is most important.

    – Kaytlin Esparza


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