People often confuse the terms “voice” and “tone” in writing. Are they the same thing, or are they different?

These terms are often used interchangeably, and I confess that I’ve used them interchangeably as well. Their meanings are similar, which is why we all get a little confused about when to use which term.

But here’s a little trick for distinguishing them: Voice is your overall written personality, and tone is the mood you’re writing with in that piece. Let’s talk a little more about what this actually means.


Your voice is your writing style. It’s your unique way of phrasing things, your cadence and rhythm, and your word choices. It’s your signature style, and it can be the way a reader knows it’s you even if you write under different pen names.

We all have a certain way that we write. Although we can change our voice for different mediums, we still have a flavor that says, “This is me.” There’s a finesse we bring to the page, a descriptive wizardry, or a way of building tension that is distinctly ours.


Tone, however, is the way you’re putting a certain feeling tone into your writing. What kind of mood is coming across? Are you conveying a lightness, like an upbeat and positive friend, because you’re writing for children? Or are your words coming across as grave and somber because you’re writing for tweens about dragon tribes at war?

Examples From My Own Writing

I’ll give you some examples to further illustrate the two terms.

When I was reviewing the manuscript for my upcoming teen self-help book, I noticed that one chapter contained more silly humor than the other chapters did. The little humorous asides seemed excessive compared to other chapters, and, to be honest, they were detracting from the points I was making instead of adding to them.

Was the problem my tone or my voice? It was my tone. I had written in my usual voice (with my typical style, cadence, flow, and word choices), but because of the frequent asides couched in parentheses, the tone went a little off the rails, careening toward Goofball City. I fixed this problem fairly easily by deleting a number of those asides and rewriting a few sentences to use more commonplace examples instead of over-the-top silly ones.

In another chapter, I had a different problem: I seemed to speak in a more simplistic way compared to the more substantive way I spoke in the other chapters. So, what was inconsistent here, my voice or my tone?

In this instance, it was actually both. My tone was a little younger sounding, as if talking to an innocent reader who wasn’t ready to grasp big ideas. I was almost overly sweet and cheery, as opposed to balancing that feeling with a sense of wisdom.

I also had a slightly different voice. I was using shorter sentences and paragraphs, simpler words, and a more rapid cadence that didn’t match the way the rest of the book flowed with a heavier rhythm. Sure, it sounded like me, but it wasn’t consistent with the voice I was using elsewhere. It needed more heft.

Reworking that section took more work, involving plumping up the paragraphs and inserting a little more substance so that it wasn’t too light and airy. There was nothing wrong with the way it was written, except for the fact that it simply didn’t match the rest.

The Value of an Outside Opinion

Having an inconsistent tone and/or voice is common. Sometimes you may be aiming for inconsistency, as when you write from the viewpoint of different characters. But if your inconsistency is accidental, you can turn to a professional editor to help you fix it. Sometimes an outside opinion is just what you need to confirm what isn’t working and find options for addressing it.

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Sydney Spencer