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Language, Voice & Tone

Voice and tone

Consistency across pages and platforms breeds user comfort and brand identity. Speaking through our content with a uniform university voice develops a rapport of reliability between us and the user.

A basic characterization of this may be:

  • Our voice is our unique personality. A well-crafted voice communicates personality and values—it’s a distilled representation of the university.
  • Tone is more like attitude—the emotional context of a piece, analogous to a person’s tone of voice.

Think and develop the message of your content’s voice and tone. Write content accordingly; e.g. fun, not childish; clever, not silly; powerful, not complicated; smart, not stodgy; cool, not alienating; informal, not sloppy; helpful, not overbearing; exert, not bossy.

Also consider your target when determining a content tone. Refer to Audiences to establish what tone best reaches which group of users.


Active voice

Our writing should be concise and direct. We prefer the active voice because it supports brevity and makes written content more engaging too.

The active voice helps the reader identity the subject of the sentence.

Tip: Try Dr. Rebecca Johnson's method of detecting passive vs. active voice: if you insert “by zombies” after the verb and the sentence still makes sense, you’re using the passive voice.

  • Active: Purchase stamps at Information Exchange.
  • Passive: Stamps can be purchased at Information Exchange.

Use inclusive language

Use gender neutral language whenever possible. Use they/them/their, rather than him/her.


Use plain language

Choose to write using plain, unobstructed language, versus clever or detailed explanations; this respects users' time, and improves users' overall website experience. Write text to guide users and the needs of your target audience.

Clarity over complexity. Replace lengthy, ambiguous terms with clear language.

For examples, reference the plainlanguage.gov list to simplify your writing.


Be concise

To keep content understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:

  • Specific
  • Informative
  • Clear and concise
  • Brisk but not terse
  • Incisive but human
  • Serious but not pompous or emotionless

You should:

  • Use contractions (such as can’t and won’t)
  • Not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar (for example, say You can rather than You may be able to)
  • Use the language people are using
  • Use short sentences
  • Check sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them for clarity

Craft sentences at 25 words or fewer, whenever possible. At 25 words, sentences are markedly more difficult to comprehend. We also recommend varying sentence length. 

Remove redundant language.

  • Use: Incoming freshmen may be unaware of the library's student resources.
  • Instead of: Incoming freshmen students who are new to the university may not be aware of the many resources the library offers for student use.

Text elements

Bold and italic text should not take the place of headings. Similarly, block quotes should not be used for text not previously quoted within the webpage, event or news article.


Associated Press Style

University Marketing and Communications writes and edits all text via Associated Press Style principles. To streamline the usability, page readability and content comprehension, consider using AP Style when writing content for your department or college pages. For access to the AP Style guidelines, contact University Marketing and Communications.

 


Resources

*NOTE: THIS GUIDE IS IN DRAFT FORM AS WE ADOPT AND EMPLOY VARIOUS METHODS FOR GOVERNING AND MAINTAINING CONSISTENT CONTENT.