The “tone” of a piece of writing can be described as how readers perceive the personality of the writer.
Whenever we read something, we form impressions about the writer. It’s almost like they are speaking to us, like we can hear them in our minds. And the voice we hear reveals a distinct personality.
Some academic writing is overly serious and unnecessarily complex. Reading it feels like attending a dry lecture by a professor who at best fails to connect with the audience and at worst talks down to the audience, as if the crowd is intellectually inferior.
On the other hand, you want to avoid producing academic writing that is too informal in tone. Academic readers expect you to show that you take your ideas seriously and are working hard to express them as clearly and professionally as possible.
The best tone for academic writing makes readers feel as though they are having a conversation with a highly intelligent person who is deeply knowledgeable about his or her topic and who understands that others may not know as much as they do.
Your writing should be only as complex as it needs to be to express the ideas. You should use a strong and specific vocabulary but avoid words that only a few people understand. And make sure to explain any specialist terms (jargon) or lesser-known references or concepts so all adult readers can follow your argument.
Your goal is not to impress readers with fancy and complex language and style, but rather to dazzle them with how clearly and elegantly you express your complex ideas.
The tone I try to achieve in my writing is warm, patient and conversational, serious but not too serious. I want my readers to perceive me as an intelligent person who loves sharing ideas with them. I want to sound confident and convincing, but also like I would listen to someone who disagreed with me.
Setting the right tone takes practice, but once you make it one of your academic writing goals, you can start working toward expressing yourself in a way that creates the best impression in readers’ minds.