Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Tone

While our voice enables us to express TRU’s brand personality authentically and consistently, tone is the way in which our voice adapts to the context—as we would in any conversation.

Adjust for context

Our voice remains purposeful, empowering, collaborative, open and visionary. But, as we vary our tone for different contexts, the emphasis on each of these five facets of our personality adjusts.

For example, if you are writing a flyer to inform students of basic services, you may be very empowering and open, a little less collaborative and purposeful, and hardly express TRU’s visionary side at all. Whereas, if you are writing a news release announcing a unique new service that will transform students’ experiences of university, your tone will probably sound visionary and empowering.

Promoting an event with a few words on a social media post, poster or CCTV slide? Your punchy (purposeful) language will take centre stage, the other attributes adjusting based on the subject of the event.

Recruiting students for a degree program? Your description of program details may feature short, direct statements and active voice (purposeful) while the key messages about TRU may emphasize support (empowering), accessibility and diversity (open).

Your tone also gives your audience subtle clues about whether your subject relates to them or not. About how seriously they should take the content—being overly casual on a notice about an important deadline would be detrimental, for example. And about our authenticity. Here are some general guidelines to achieve an effective tone, true to our brand voice.

General guidelines

Ask yourself, who is your intended audience? What medium are you using to reach that audience? How formal is your subject? Also consider your purpose. Are you writing to inform, persuade or entertain? These factors all result in variations in your tone.

Be human

Remember that your audience is human above all else. Though our individual needs for communication may differ, we all like to be spoken to at a person-to-person, eye-to-eye level.

Be conversational, but concise. Informal, but never disrespectful. Professional, but not corporate. Witty, but not facetious. Use first person ("we" and “you”, not “they”), and be both empathetic and direct. Embody the voice of a trusted friend, and speak from the heart.

Be appropriate

Our level of formality will vary as contexts change. Like a dress code. We are inherently ourselves, speaking in our brand voice, but we dress up or down depending on the occasion.

Writing a social media post to students? We’re at our casual best. An invitation to a donor event? We are as formal as the occasion demands. First person is more direct and sounds informal, without being off-the-cuff. As are sentence fragments. Third person will give you a more formal tone for the most reserved contexts, but use it with active voice to keep from sounding vague or officious.

Be clear and concise

Clarity is essential to communicate TRU's story effectively. Modern audiences are impatient readers (especially online), so keep it simple. And brief.

Use straightforward, plain language in active voice. It isn’t just purposeful—it’s easier to understand. Our audiences are ultimately looking for beneficial outcomes: what will they gain? Whether you're writing 30 words for a poster, or 300 for a news story, get your point across without fluffy padding or unnecessary detail. Make your headers work harder with key words. 

Be accessible

Being inclusive requires that we write for our diverse audiences with caring. Give people space to see themselves in your content.

Use inclusive language. Sometimes it's as simple as saying "you" instead of getting bogged down in a third person construct like "she or he". Avoid jargon and unnecessary labels. Talking about research to general audiences? Translating research findings into terms people outside the field can understand and engage with is difficult, but worth the effort. Connect with a larger audience—save “knowledge mobilization” and “capacity building” for that grant application.

Be timeless, most times

What we write today should make just as much sense in a year, or a decade. Language evolves, but what's trendy can often become dated.

Being open and visionary is about embracing risk and accepting new ideas. As students get creative with language, we need to be aware of trends. Like getting comfortable with hashtags and Twitter handles. Before you use new slang, however, consider whether or not it’s the right context or audience. Use it to effect, not just to be trendy.

Be guided, but not ruled

Language is a living, breathing thing, and so is our brand voice and tone.

These guidelines are a starting point rather than a rulebook. Everything is open to interpretation and debate. In fact, the more our voice and tone are discussed, debated, evolved and pushed, the more distinct TRU becomes, which is a very good thing.