Tone refers to the overall manner of expression, comprising messaging, voice, tense, and diction.
Diction, or word choice
Prefer modern usage and spelling. As language evolves over time, words concatenate. "Electronic mail" became "e-mail", and "e-mail" became
In addition, choose short, simple words when they'll do the same job as
long, overblown terms. This helps drive home the engaging,
conversational nature of the brand, though it can be rare in the
university setting, particularly among faculty more comfortable with the
more verbose language of publishing. Set an example for the clear
communication Furman strives to teach and encourage. Use… don't
Beyond favoring clear, simple diction, also aim for a concise, upbeat tone. How?
- Adopt active voice and use precise, assertive verbs, in the present tense wherever possible.
- Find the perfect word to convey meaning. Use the one perfect word rather than a few that can only approximate your meaning.
In the virtual space of a webpage, your audience doesn't need additional
directions to know that in Western culture, they'll typically navigate
left to right, top to bottom. Avoid using "following" or "below" to
refer to elements on the page, when the layout of the page itself
provides those indications. In addition, when calling the user to
action, avoid unnecessary words that will just get in the way of acting.
- Check our list of upcoming events
- Students' favorite coffee shops
- Read alumni news
- Check the list below
- The following coffee shops
- Click here to read alumni news
Perspective refers to the author's relationship with the reader. In
content that advocates or persuades, we recommend speaking from the
first-person plural: Furman University, or the department you represent,
is "we." As you write in the first person, you'll naturally indicate
the owner, agent, or actor in an action; in doing this, you'll
automatically write in active rather than passive voice and trim
- In the Biology department, we encourage you to explore…
- The Biology department encourages exploration
- Exploration is encouraged by the Biology department
Sentence length and cohesion
As the target audience delves into the Furman brand and web presence,
let them unwrap the present: at the highest level, they need concrete
but minimal detail. Word choice must be accurate and precise, whether
you're writing a 140 character Tweet or department landing page. As they
dig deeper, content can become more specific, substantial, and longer;
in many ways, your reader has given you permission to offer content in
this manner in exchange for their time.
In page copy, remember your reader as you create content that breaks the
stereotype that "people don't read online." They do, when you offer
them content that "pulls" them through it. First, your sentences
shouldn't ramble; aim to be clear and concise. Then to keep sentences
from running wild, don't overwhelm your readers with too many ideas at
once, and don't go on longer than necessary. But don't use monotonous,
short sentences just to avoid longer ones. This makes the rhythm choppy.
Amid rhythm and sentence length, where does that leave you? Consciously
vary your sentence length. Then aim for concision and cohesion: let old
or known ideas introduce new thinking, then let one thought flow to the
next by starting a new sentence with the concepts or terms that ended
the previous one. One by one, your sentence will pull eager readers
through messages of advocacy or ideas about adopting new processes into
(Yes, that was a lot of copy—but it follows the rules it espouses: it
aims for cohesion, consistency, and variety in sentence length to get
you to this point.)
Why does this matter? For your busy audience, content that demands their
attention for more than a couple seconds must be readable and should
"pull" them through the message. A little variety in how you form those
messages adds energy, and gives your reader the energy to get through
the text. In the time-pressured world of conflicting responsibilities,
homework, and busy social lives, your good content can give your
audience a reason to dig in and learn.
Tense is the form of the verb that indicates time. In general, use the
present tense. Like the active voice, the present tense is assertive,
concise, and confident—all qualities that support the Furman brand and
voice. The present tense is also more contemporary, making events or
activities seem ongoing instead of finite—key for evergreen content on
the internet. This also jibes with the general, "it's always now" tone
of social media.
Voice is the relationship between the subject of the action and the verb
itself. In general, phrases that use active voice are a bit shorter
than similar phrases that use passive voice. They can also be more
informal, though passive voice creates a false sense of formality and
grace with nominalizations and wordiness. Use the active voice instead
of passive voice to make content more clear and confident, in keeping
with the straightforward tone dictated by the message. It's a way of
demonstrating respect for your audience.