A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Tone

Tone is something that most writers struggle with, especially ones who feel like they’ve finally found their specific “voice.” After what could be years of struggling with identity, the idea that a client might want you to change or ruin your true inner voice can be intensely threatening. This could lead writers to panic and adopt an alien or unnatural voice or to even rip up contracts and ruin relationships because they fail to understand this one key fact:

Tone and voice are different things.

When someone refers to a “style,” they could be referring to a variety of different concepts. Usually, they’re referring to some combination of tone, diction, and voice. It’s only when a client doesn’t like your voice that it poses long-term problems. Perhaps they don’t like your overzealous adverbs, perhaps they don’t like your excessive punctuation, or perhaps you’re too subtle. Who knows? A client not liking your inner voice is a sad, unfortunate thing.


Most clients are really preoccupied by tone. Tone has nothing to do with your inner, special, sought-after voice. Tone has to do with who you’re writing your content for and how well you’re keeping that audience in mind. And if a writer thinks that they “can’t write” with a certain tone, that shows a lack of empathy with and understanding of that specific audience.

For instance, if a DIY blogger who has a very colloquial tone suddenly needs to write for a more professional audience, that writer might feel like they “can’t.” But the truth is that they can, and doing so would not be abandoning their voice. They would need to use less casual diction and become more comfortable with using jargon and phrases (like “B2B,” “ROI,” “moving forward,” and other odd phrases from the 21st century). They would also need to get to know the kind of people who would be reading this content — who they are, what they’re looking for, and, most importantly, what they want. After some practice, and perhaps talking to people in the new audience, the writer can move forward, and most importantly, they can write with their original voice completely in tact.

Making a huge jump like this might seem like a writer has to put on a set of sunglasses and look at the world in a whole new way. That’s because you’d be doing exactly that. You’re seeing the world from the perspective of an audience you’re not used to yet. This takes time and practice, but it’s absolutely do-able, though many writers seem to struggle with it.

The horrible truth is, if you can’t jump to one tone or another, you may not have had a voice to begin with.

This is possibly why so many bloggers out there are dedicated to one audience and one audience only. Everyone out there, though, is better than that. Everyone has the capacity to empathize with a new group of people. It’s a talented writer, though, who can communicate with that new group while keeping their own identity intact.

Many, many people don’t think of tone this way, as being completely dictated by the audience. Writing copy might at first seem like a seesaw, one that hops back and forth from educational to sales-oriented, with only gradients in between those two extremes. However, there are many types of people out there, each with a specific need, want, thought, expression, or worry in mind while reading your piece. Writing is a gift that allows you to reach through the void of time and space to talk to someone who you can relate to.

So talk to them.

Stephanie Nolan, an editor for Online Writing Jobs, is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Since college, she's both edited and written film scripts, press releases, fictional stories, and articles. After gaining professional experience with Public Relations, Human Resources, and Recruitment, she discovered OWJ. With her strong marketing background and love of the written word, she now found a great balance while working with online content.

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Posted in Writing Tips