How is the tone determined from a text?

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The previous post has some great tips! I just wanted to add a strategy that works well for my students. To find tone, it is helpful to use an acronym called DIDLS (I did not come up with this myself; as far as I know, it is a well-known and widely used strategy and I’m not sure who originally created it). DIDLS stands for Diction, Imagery, Details, Language, and Syntax. When reading a work for tone, it is helpful to go through each of these steps.

Diction: How does the word choice show the author’s tone? Are the words particularly dark, uplifting, concrete/abstract, etc? The type of word choice an author uses can help to determine how he/she feels about a subject.

Imagery: Imagery refers to word that relate to the senses. If, for example, the author uses a lot of bright, colorful imagery, that might indicate a more positive tone, whereas dark imagery might indicate a negative tone. Similarly, pleasant sound or smell imagery leads us to a positive tone, while unpleasant sound or smell imagery would lead to a more negative tone.

Details: When finding tone, ask yourself what kind of details the author includes. If the details are more scientific or straightforward, the tone is probably neutral or objective. If the details are geared more toward memories of the author’s life, the tone might be more personal and/or nostalgic.

Language: What kind of figurative language does the author use? Finding metaphors, similes, etc. can lead you to the tone. A metaphor about a woman’s beauty, for example, might show the author’s admiration for her.

Syntax: Syntax refers to the sentence structure and word order. Most conventional sentences go in order of subject-verb-object, but authors can play around with this convention to change the tone of their work. If they put a verb first, for instance, that will place more emphasis on the action rather than the subject. Additionally, placement of clauses and phrases can affect the tone.

It is also important to know what you are looking for when finding tone. In most cases, when a teacher asks you to find an author’s tone, he/she is asking you to find the author’s attitude toward the subject of the piece. So if you are analyzing Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” for example, you might say that her tone toward death is welcoming or appreciative, depending on your reading of the poem. That is something people tend to get confused about. Tone is not about how the poem makes you feel; rather, it is how the author uses words to express his/her feelings about a particular subject.

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