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At the core of every piece of writing is the message — the information we’re trying to communicate to our user.
In literature, the tone of voice refers to the author’s feelings towards the subject, as expressed through the writing itself.
Writing for the web is obviously different from writing prose (or at least it should be, since web users read very little.) Still, every scrap of writing on a page (from body copy to button labels and other UX copywriting) contributes to the tone of voice we’re using to speak to our users. It’s the way in which we communicate our personality.
For all but the most extreme and exaggerated tones, you should expect to find similar effect sizes in your own tone variations.
It would be rare for a writing style to collect scores at the outermost limits of our tone scales and still be effective for business purposes: you want to emphasize your chosen tonal qualities without making them dominate your writing to the extent that the content becomes excessive and stops communicating the underlying meaning in favor of pure style.
Tone of voice is the way we tell our users how feel about our message, too.
Despite the importance of tone, advice about it tends to be vague: “Be consistent. Be unique.” So, we wondered, what are the broader qualities that make up a tone?
We decided to design a manageable web-specific tool that content strategists could use to create simple tone profiles for a company’s online presence.
Our goal was to identify several tone-of-voice dimensions that could be used to describe the tone of voice of any website. We then eliminated any words that wouldn’t be realistic content goals for normal websites (like “guilty”).
That process produced a list of 37 website-specific tone words.
We then iteratively refined that list, by: Tones could fall at either extreme of each dimension, or somewhere in between.