Sometimes it can be a challenge for brands to put their tone of voice to work when it comes to creating content. After all, what elements of language are affected by tone? And how does your definition of tone translate into your style of writing?
Well, there are a few things to think about — 12 to be exact. Here are the 12 elements of tone you need to consider when creating content for your brand.
1. Word Length
If you want all readers to understand you clearly, it’s best to use short words. This makes your content accessible to all who engage with it. In terms of tone, short words are simple and direct, while longer ones suggest sophistication and nuance. So the particular tone your company wants to adopt should be reflected in the type of words you use.
Shorter words tend to be punchier and harder, which is great if you want your tone to be bold, while longer words can give a softer, more relaxed effect. So if you want the character of your tone to be pensive and gentle, then it’s good to incorporate longer words into your content.
2. Sentence Length
Shorter sentences give a concise style, while longer ones are more rambling. This means your tone might vary for different content pieces.
Regardless of tone, you should be able to read a whole sentence out loud in a single breath. You want your content to be accessible and easy to understand — because amazing customer experiences can’t happen if you’re confusing your customers.
An American Press Institute report found a correlation between shorter sentences and reading comprehension. This is great insight into how people engage with content, and definitely something you should consider when creating your tone of voice guidelines:
- For sentences that were 8 words or less, readers understood 100 percent of the information.
- For sentences that were 14 words long, readers understood 90 percent of the information.
- For sentences that were 43 words or longer, comprehension dropped to less than 10 percent.
Having a shorter average sentence length is good, but the keyword here is average. To keep readers interested, vary the length of sentences and paragraphs to give an organic, varied rhythm with its own ebbs and flows. This helps establish an authentic tone for your brand, one that engages the reader.
Pronouns are the words that stand in place of the names of people or things. And your choice of pronouns can have a big effect on your tone.
For example, when writing about your company, you can use the first person “we” or third person “Acrolinx.” The first person is more immediate, positioning yourself as a group of people, while the third person is much more detached and abstract, with less clarity about who’s speaking. When writing for an audience, you can use the second person “you” or the third person “customers,” or “suppliers.” The second person is direct and engaging, while the third is more distanced. We’ve written this blog in first and second person, which makes it very clear we’re addressing you directly.
|Top Tip: No matter how you decide to address your audience, it’s vital that you’re inclusive of all readers. We have a dedicated section in The Acrolinx Inclusive Language Guide about gender and pronouns. So make sure to check it out if you want to learn more about the important role of inclusivity in your content strategy.|
Conciseness is the ratio of ideas to words. The fewer words you use to convey an idea, the more concise you are.
On a practical level, to be concise is better. Getting to the point saves time and therefore money. It also adheres to the principles of plain language writing, which means your content is accessible to readers of all levels (and if you want to learn more about plain language writing, The Acrolinx Inclusive Language Guide also includes a section on this).
But if you want to adopt a more flowing, rambling, or descriptive tone, you’ll need some “extra” words to achieve the laid-back mood you’re going for. You’ll want to sound less matter-of-fact, and adopt a more expressive attitude.
If conciseness is the ratio of words to ideas, clarity is the degree to which your readers understand your words and ideas. Regardless of how your tone sounds, making sure your content is clear and understandable is vital to creating positive customer experiences.
Clarity also makes translation and localization easy, as source content is straightforward, and easy to understand. This likewise follows the principles of plain language writing. Plain language makes information cognitively accessible for neurodiverse readers. And if you’re writing or translating content for culturally and linguistically diverse communities, plain language doesn’t assume all people have the same literacy levels, or any prior knowledge on the topic they’re reading about.
7. Jargon and Obscure Words
Jargon is specialized language, used in a particular professional domain. Such as law, finance, and engineering, among others.
There are two ways to use jargon. Bad jargon is there to hide the truth and bamboozle people. It confuses or alienates readers and results in negative customer experiences. Yet, good jargon can signal that you’re part of a community, and can save time since it’s a concise way to express something.
Likewise, using obscure or unusual words has a similar effect as using jargon — you’re gambling on whether or not the audience will understand what you’re saying.
|Top Tip: Terminology councils are a great way to manage the use of jargon and obscure words. You can create a list of accepted jargon terms that you think will help you establish the right tone with your audience. And you can also blocklist any terms or words that might alienate readers. Having a terminology council also enables different teams, across different locations, to use consistent and compliant terminology when representing your product or service.|
8. Buzzwords and Clichés
Buzzwords are jargon terms that attract people because of their novelty. Some fields, particularly in the tech industry, generate a lot of buzzwords when naming their innovations. Words like “big data,” “internet of things,” and “millennials.” Whereas, clichés are words and phrases that have become worn out through overuse. Words like “synergy,” “leverage,” and “proactive” were once new and fresh. But now they’ve become clichéd.
The same caution applies to buzzwords as to jargon — only use them if you know your audience will understand. And be cautious. Today’s hot buzzword is tomorrow’s embarrassing anachronism. Sometimes, using buzzwords plants a time bomb in your content, guaranteeing it will sound dated in the future. You may be tempted to use buzzwords to impress clients, but again, it’s a risky strategy.
We have clients in Silicon Valley, and if you take that approach there, someone else will just come along and explain it more simply or clearly, and they’ll get your customers, because all the research shows that clear communicators are more trusted.
Neil Taylor, Managing Partner, The Writer
With clichés, there may be times when you need to meet readers where they are by using a cliché you know they’ll respond to. But you could pay a high price if you wind up sounding just like everyone else.
Contractions are formed by two words combined into one, such as “you’re,” “don’t,” or ”it’s.” Most people use contractions all the time when they talk, except in the most formal situations. So using them in writing makes your tone informal, because your readers have a strong sense of being in a conversation. In turn, this demonstrates your brand has a laid-back, yet direct attitude.
Colloquial language is the language of everyday casual speech. It’s a flexible term, because the definition of casual varies from speaker to speaker, and from culture to culture.
Colloquial language is likely to use contractions (see above) and may also include slang. Some examples are “go look them up,” “grabbing coffee,” or “big a-ha moments.” As you can see, colloquial doesn’t necessarily mean simple. Writing colloquially doesn’t mean you can’t cover technical features or concepts. It just means you have to adopt the tone of an expert chatting to a non-expert.
For global organizations, creating culturally aware content is vital if you want to create amazing experiences for all your customers. Tone allows you to do more than just translate content, but localize it too. You can adjust your tone to suit different international audiences. After all, just translating content from its source language isn’t enough if you want to connect with your audience.
11. Mistakes and Rule-Breaking
Technical problems that can creep into content include easily confused words (such as “peak one’s interest” instead of “pique one’s interest”), misspellings, and grammar errors. Most would agree that using the wrong word, or spelling something incorrectly, is undesirable in business writing.
Unless it’s part of a deliberate creative strategy.
Think of the Beanz Meanz Heinz advertising slogan. The deliberate misspelling of “beans” and “means” creates a playful tone, while still clearly communicating what their product is. But when it comes to grammar, it’s less clear cut:
- The prescriptive view is that we should respect and obey the rules whether we agree with them or not.
- The descriptive view is that the right way to use language is the way people actually use it in speech and writing — not as reflected in rules created by academics.
Some grammar rules can be bent or broken. For example, starting a sentence with “and” or “but,” or ending one with a preposition like “on,” may not be strictly correct, but more people do it when they talk. So you might want to do the same if your goal is to achieve a casual mood and conversational tone.
12. Emotionally Aware and Inclusive
Creating emotionally aware content is when you deliberately chose words to motivate certain reactions from your readers. There’s significant research to show that in a world that offers unlimited choices, emotion helps people to make optimal decisions without being overwhelmed. It also helps convey your brand tone and attitude. We wrote a blog about How to Use Emotion to Write With Purpose, and it’s the perfect place to start if you want to incorporate emotive language into your content! But if you want more of a deep dive, check out our guide Writing With Feeling: A Guide to Emotive Language for More Effective Content.
Whether you want your customers to be excited about a new product release, or to reassure them when your company is going through an M&A, writing content with emotional appeal has positive effects on long-term ROI. Used responsibly, emotive language can elevate your tone and make you stand out, attract, and cultivate loyal customers.
Inclusive language demonstrates awareness of the vast diversity of people in the world. Using inclusive language offers respect, safety, and belonging to all people, regardless of their personal characteristics. We think that all enterprises should have inclusivity at the core of their tone of voice!
Acrolinx and Tone of Voice: The Perfect Match
Once you decide which elements of tone impact your tone of voice, you then have to systematically roll that tone out across your content operation. That’s no easy feat. And that’s exactly what Acrolinx can help you with!
As a content improvement software, Acrolinx guides your writers to create more consistent, on-brand, and emotionally appealing content from the first draft. Want to learn how Acrolinx can help roll out and maintain your tone of voice? Let’s talk!