An Exercise in Analyzing Tone Using Non-Fiction Prose Tone

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An Exercise in Analyzing Tone
Using Non-Fiction Prose
Tone - the attitude an author displays. The attitude may be focused toward the subject being written about or toward the audience.
The key to unlocking tone in a piece of literature is through the following elements: diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax. These elements are also known as DIDLS.
Diction- the author's choice of words and phrases
Imagery- the mental pictures the author creates, appeals to All 5 Senses
Details- elements the author chooses to be specific about, and, in some cases, the elements the author chooses not to be specific about
Language- the figurative language used as well as the register of language an author uses to communicate: the emotional distance between the author and the subject

5 Registers of Language

        1. Frozen – pledge, constitution…the words do not change

        2. Formal - lecture, business….no casual language

        3. Consultative – conversation between 2 or more parties…no slang

        4. Casual – conversation between two or more people …uses contractions and slang

        5. Intimate – Code words shared between small groups i.e. close friends or family

Syntax - the grammatical structure of individual sentences, and the construction of the piece as a whole. May also include persuasive appeals and/or syllogism.

A frequently used prompt in the essay section of the AP Language and Composition exam is one that will ask the students to analyze the author’s attitude (tone) in a given selection.

Students will need to be able to analyze the different elements that characterize attitude(s) in a selection, and to synthesize those elements into a prevailing tone. The upper level essays will recognize a complex attitude in a selection. "Complex" in this context means more than one.
Buzzwords to be aware of in the essay prompt are:

literary techniques

elements of style

stylistic elements

resources of language

use of language


rhetorical strategies

rhetorical devices

rhetorical techniques

BOTTOMLINE: ALL of these Buzz Words want you to do the SAME THING…DIDLS!!!

Simply put, what the student is being asked to do is to identify an ABSTRACTION (the attitude) through the use of CONCRETE elements (DIDLS) diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax.

An effective method for analyzing tone is to keep a dialectical journal of the elements of tone while the student is reading the selection. The dialectical journal helps the student keep track of those concrete elements of tone, and provides the opportunity to develop commentary on those elements.

Fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise. List the concrete element on the left side of the page. The student should write one to two sentences of commentary for each concrete element listed directly opposite the element on the right side of the page. The concrete element is ‘how” an attitude is characterized. Commentary is “why” that element helps to characterize an attitude.

Evidence Commentary

How is the Attitude is Characterized”, “Why”,“What is revealed?”,

Concrete detail”, “Quotation” “What is learned?”

“burden” (diction) A burden is something that weighs you down. A thing that you carry with you, despite the load.

As you read various selections or chapters, keep a dialectical journal with following requirements:

  • 5 examples of diction

  • 3 examples of imagery

  • 3 examples of detail

  • 3 examples of language

  • 3 examples of syntax


Some areas may have the same evidence. This is fine for it shows that the elements are fluid.

Timed Writing #1

"Shame" is by the author and activist Dick Gregory. Read the selection and then write an essay analyzing the rhetorical techniques Gregory uses to convey his attitude of shame.

Organization of your 5 paragraph essay

Intro – Prompt

Paragraph #1 - Diction

Paragraph #2 - Imagery

Paragraph #3 - Details, Language, or Syntax

Conclusion- Restate prompt

After the first timed writing is completed, then ask the student the following questions.

What is the Attitude?
What other feelings did Dick feel?

Better writers recognize that emotions and tone is complex in nature – all the feelings surroundings Gregory’s “Shame” are abstract elements that you cannot touch.
This time in your second timed writing your essay’s organization should shift to focus around abstract elements and how the DIDLS support these abstract emotions.
Write a fully developed four-paragraph essay and create a strong conclusion that conveys the lesson of the piece… “life lesson” or “universal truth” of the piece.


Read the following selection by author and activist Dick Gregory carefully. Then, in a well-organized essay, discuss how Gregory uses language to convey his complex attitude toward his subject.

Organization of your 4 paragraph essay

Intro – Prompt…”The feelings of anger and unworthiness aid in forming Dick Gregory’s complex attitude of Shame.”

Paragraph #1 – Anger is depicted through 3 of the DIDLS to support

Paragraph #2 – Unworthiness is depicted through 3 of the DIDLS to support

Conclusion- Convey the lessoned learned of the piece

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