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Voice and Tone

Our digital platform visitors are people. Treat the people coming to your website the same way you would treat them face-to-face.

In addition to using an appropriate voice and tone, good digital content is well-organized. View Illinois State's content organization guidelines to learn more.

It might seem hard to connect with your audience on a digital platform. We input information into some kind of technology, and people absorb our information through technology. On the surface, it feels like a robotic transaction. It doesn't have to be like that, and it shouldn't.

You can establish relationships in the digital world. Following voice and tone guidelines will help you connect with the humans coming to your platform.

Understanding Voice and Tone

Voice and tone are how we sound on digital platforms.

Just as your own personal voice and tone give off an impression of what you're all about, so does Illinois State's. If we want to leave a good impression with our digital visitors, we need to use an appropriate voice and tone.

Voice

In digital copy, voice is a reflection of the Illinois State University brand. It doesn't change and you can always recognize it.

The University voice should always be approachable and conversational.

Even though there are many units within the University, we should all have the same conversational, approachable voice. No matter what digital platform someone is visiting, it should always sound like Illinois State.

Tone

Tone changes depending on who your audience is and what you're trying to communicate.

Digital tone works just like face-to-face tone. We use a different tone of voice when we're talking to our boss than we do with our best friend.

In digital copy, we need to identify our audience and communicate with them in the appropriate tone.

Voice and Tone Example

Let's say you're trying to get someone to visit the University. We need to have a consistent voice (conversational and approachable), but take on a different tone based on the audience and their needs.

Prospective Undergrad Students
Most prospective undergrads are 16-17 years old. They feel excited and nervous about their next life chapter.

A relaxed and fun tone will help calm their nerves and elevate their excitement to explore Illinois State.

Whether you're hanging out on campus or exploring the town, the Redbird community has so much to offer. See for yourself and schedule a visit.

Parents of Prospective Undergrad Students
Parents are also excited and nervous. A more professional tone will help put their nerves at ease and build excitement around their child going to a respectable institution.

From engaging academics to a thriving and supportive community, Illinois State has a lot to offer. See what makes Illinois State a top-choice institution. Schedule your visit today.

Graduate Students
Graduate students are looking to further their education. They are focused on what they want to do and just need to find the right fit. A confident tone will help them understand how we can help them accomplish their goals.

We know you have big goals to accomplish. We're here to support you every step of the way. Learn more about how we can help. Schedule your visit today.

Types of Tone

Depending on your message and audience, here are some tones to consider.

Professional, but not stuffy.

Good content establishes credibility, but there's no need to be overly stiff.

Being professional helps visitors see us as experts and establishes trust.

Writing academically or in an overly professional manner makes you less approachable and makes it harder for people to connect with you on a digital platform. Treat your visitors like a teammate, not a subordinate or boss.

Professional: Campus Recreation is all about health and fitness. Our facility has the equipment you need for cardio and weight lifting. You can also switch up your routine by scaling our rock climbing wall or swimming laps in the pool.

Stuffy: Campus Recreation offers a variety of activities that promote health and fitness among students, faculty, and staff. The facility includes several amenities such as cardiovascular machines, weights, a rock climbing wall, and a swimming pool.

Helpful, but not overwhelming.

A lot of content on Illinois State platforms exists to help our audience do something, such as apply to a program, sign up for classes, pay a bill, etc.

A helpful tone helps your audience accomplish their task.

An overwhelming tone offers more information than needed. We call this exformation. Exformation adds chaos to your content and makes it harder for a person to accomplish a task and get what they need.

Helpful: Log in to My.IllinoisState.edu to view your class schedule.

Overwhelming: Log in to My.IllinoisState.edu to view your class schedule. You will be presented with a screen that asks for your ULID and password. Enter your ULID and password and select "Sign in."

Tips for a helpful tone:

Be clear. Don't overcomplicate or overexplain things. Ask, "Will my site visitors understand this?"

Existing knowledge can be the curse to clear writing. Test your content on someone who is less familiar with the topic you're writing about.

Know your audience. Web content doesn't have to be everything to everyone. Know who is coming to your site, why they are coming, and provide the information they want or need.

Stay in your lane. Your website doesn't have to be the mothership of all information. Each website at the University owns its own information. You can refer your audience to additional sites where they can explore more information on their own. For your platform, stick to what you know and do.

Confident, but not arrogant.

Writing in a confident tone helps establish credibility and helps readers to trust the information we're providing.

Tips for sounding confident:

Be definite. Avoid hedging language that communicates a sense of uncertainty.

Confident: We schedule admissions interviews in February.

Hedging: We typically schedule admissions interviews in February.

Avoid common hedge words, like:

  • Probably
  • Most likely
  • Typically
  • Usually
  • Generally

Avoid politeness. Using words like "sorry" and "please" in web content make you sound less confident. You can still sound friendly and conversational without common polite words.

Confident: Explore our academic programs to find your major.

Too polite: Please explore our academic program page to find your major.

Keep it short. The fewer words you can use to get your point across, the more confident you will sound in your writing.

Confident: Our academic programs give you real, hands-on experience.

Too long: Our academic programs offer you the kinds of experiences that will help you succeed in the real world.

Confident writing does not mean we should sound arrogant. There is an element of persuasion in confident writing, but it should not be so confident that you turn people off.

Arrogant writing often uses big words, long sentences, and passive voice. Web writing is not an appropriate way to "weed out" or turn your audience away.

Confident: Web Writing at Illinois State is consistently ranked in the top 10 of web programs in the nation.

Arrogant: Web Writing at Illinois State is consistently ranked in the top 10 of web programs in the nation. Only the best and the brightest get accepted into our program.