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Tone of voice

Tone of voice is the way we express our brand personality in writing – what we say and, more importantly, how we say it.

Developing a consistent tone of voice will further enhance our brand style. By writing in a particular way, what we say becomes more engaging and convincing. And by establishing a sense of brand personality, we imply a set of values and attributes for audiences to engage with. We can promote who we are as well as what we’re saying.

Our collective brand personality should shine through all our communications. This is a key opportunity to express what makes us different and stand out from the crowd.

Who are we?

Start by thinking about who we are and what characterises our behaviour. If The University of Manchester were a person, what would we be like?

Influential

Enterprising and intelligent, with the confidence and credibility to inspire.

We exude authority and gravitas. We know what we're talking about.

Straight-talking

Sincere and direct. We're open and honest about who we are and what we do.

We have some fantastic stories to tell and we can easily substantiate them.

We don't dumb down, nor do we over-complicate. We expect our audiences to be intelligent, but not expert – where we use specialist language, we always take the trouble to explain it.

Approachable

Inclusive and friendly, with a strong social conscience. We want to engage with our many audiences and be involved with inspiring new activities and ideas.

We have a lot to say, but we appreciate the value of listening too – the most productive dialogue is two-way, in partnership and collaboration.

Dynamic

Positive and assured, focused and decisive. We are proud of our past achievements and we look to the future with ambition and positive energy.

We don’t just aim to do things, we make things happen.

Our eight golden rules

Rule 1: Use the first person – address your audience

Why?

People respond to people.

We're more than an institution. We're an integrated and inclusive group of individuals, working together to make a difference in the world. 

Speak directly to your reader, person to person. Use active verbs to encourage connections, empathy and dialogue.

Examples

Instead of:

Many members of staff work with external organisations on a consultancy basis.

use:

We can offer you expert, specialised consultancy across many fields.

Instead of:

The School runs a series of open days in October for prospective undergraduate students.

use:

We invite you to come to one of our open days in October.

Instead of:

There is the opportunity to spend a week on placement. This provides students with hands-on experience, which sets the theoretical teaching in context.

use:

You could put our theory into your practice and gain invaluable hands-on experience via a week-long placement.

Rule 2: Be specific

Why?

We’re experts in our fields – and we can prove it.

Include facts and figures, and explain the benefits. It’s often easier to use a vague adjective than it is to research the full detail – in fact, it’s common practice in higher education communications. But we know what we’re talking about, and we want to tell the world about it, so don’t hold back. Be direct, proud and assertive.

Avoid hiding behind generic, overused adjectives. Instead, let’s tell the world the stories that make us unique; let’s highlight our strengths with specific facts.

Examples

Instead of:

An exciting new course

use:

A new course created as a direct result of the latest research findings (or whatever it is about the course that makes it ‘exciting’)

Instead of:

You’ll have access to world-class facilities.

use:

You’ll use equipment that only a handful of scientists across the world have access to.

(or whatever it is about the facilities that makes them 'world-class')

Rule 3: Look to the future

Why?

It’s full of promise. 

We’re proud of our impressive heritage, but we’re more excited about what we’ll achieve next. The future is where our audiences can get involved with us and become part of our story. Use the present and future tense.

Reference our past achievements within the context of what we’re doing today – and will do tomorrow.

Examples

Instead of:

We have created more than 12,560 patents.

use:

We have created more than 12,560 patents; our 13,000th is just around the corner.

Instead of:

The University of Manchester was created by bringing together The Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST, two of Britain's most distinguished universities, to create a powerful new force in British higher education.

UMIST can trace its roots back to 1824 and the formation of the Manchester Mechanics' Institute, while The Victoria University of Manchester was founded as Owens College in 1851.

use:

The University of Manchester is a powerful force in global higher education.

Our reputation is backed by a rich heritage of achievements stretching back to 1824. The dynamism and scope of our predecessors – Manchester Mechanics’ Institute, Owen’s College, UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester – feed into our authority, our expertise and our drive to innovate and succeed.

Rule 4: Get straight to the point

Why?

We think deeply, but communicate clearly.

We’re here to educate, inform and inspire. Our intelligent language is concise and straightforward – never long-winded or over-complicated.

Keep your words direct and to the point; cut down on any excess and avoid artificially lofty language. If you want to emphasise a particular point, try a shorter sentence.

Examples

Instead of:

Subsequent to reviewing the aforementioned documentation…

use:

After reviewing the document…

Instead of:

As part of its ongoing commitment to ensuring the standard and quality of its services and facilities, the institution has a Complaints Procedure to deal with complaints from internal and external sources.

use:

We are proud of our high-quality services and facilities; if something goes wrong, we want to know about it. That’s why we have a formal complaints procedure in place.

Rule 5: Use the same tone, whoever you're talking to

Why?

We talk to lots of people, but we have one fixed identity.

Different audiences expect to hear different messages from us – but they don’t expect us to adopt a different tone of voice for each message. To be authentic, credible and expert, we need to remain consistent in our personality and tone.

We’re not a student, a business or a funding body; we’re an authority on education – sincere, straightforward and with gravitas.

Specific terminology can help reassure business and industry of our expertise, but corporate jargon serves no purpose. Avoid slang and colloquialisms. No one likes to be patronised, and everyone should be able to understand us.

Examples

Instead of:

One of the best things about halls is that you can pop in to see your mates for a brew and say hi at the drop of a hat.

use:

Living in halls of residence means your friends are only a few doors away.

Instead of:

We have a strong ability to manage and facilitate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work. We have clear management structures in place to facilitate this work to meet the challenges facing industry today.

use:

At Manchester we understand that the knowledge you need to tackle your business’s challenges may span a range of academic disciplines. That’s why we have experts who can manage multidisciplinary research projects for you, so you’ll always have a single point of contact.

Rule 6: Open with the exciting news

Why?

We want people to read more.

Get your reader hooked with the first sentence or two and they’ll want to know more. Sometimes you'll need to go into detail, of course, but don’t dilute or overshadow the main story.

Consider the focus. What will your audience be most interested in? The human aspect? the benefits? Whatever it is, lead with that.

Examples

Instead of:

The School is one of the largest in Britain. It has around 520 undergraduate students, 200 postgraduate students and 57 members of academic staff. It covers a wide range of subject areas and many staff members are experts in their fields.

use:

Because we’re one of the largest Schools in Britain, we have experts in a wide range of fields, giving you both breadth and depth in your subject choices.

Instead of:

Our research team found that, following the smoking ban, there was a drop of more than 10% in overall preterm deliveries of infants. This supports growing evidence of the wide-ranging benefits of smoke-free legislation.

use:

Has the smoking ban reduced birth problems? That’s what new findings by our researchers suggest. They reveal a 10% drop in premature births since smoking legislation was introduced.

Rule 7: Say what we do, not what we try to do

Why?

We make things happen.

We want people to remember us – not for what we aim to do, but for what we achieve. We’re honest and direct about who we are – and who we are not. Write with conviction about how we’re making things happen and making a difference.

Beware of diluting our claims and don’t be afraid to commit to your statements. If we offer a great course, say so. We’re proud to deliver on our promises.

Examples

Instead of:

We aim to/we commit to

use:

We offer/we promise/we do

Instead of:

We aim to ensure you have access to academic support on your course.

use:

A dedicated academic adviser will work in partnership with you to help you achieve your full potential, offering advice and assistance if the going gets tough.

Rule 8: Steer clear of sector-wide clichés

Why?

We set the standard that others follow.

Look at other university websites and you’ll see the same claims, ambitions and words. To be memorable, we need to be distinctive. Our aims may be similar, but the actions we take and the attitude we convey will help us stand out from the crowd.

Think laterally in order to avoid using clichés. Replace tired adjectives, or at least support them, with facts that are specific to our University, or quotes to illustrate our real-life impact.

Top ten HE clichés

The following words and phrases are endemic on university websites, so try to come up with imaginative ways to avoid using them.

1. World-class
2. Excellence
3. Diverse
4. Vibrant
5. Outstanding
6. Cutting-edge
7. Iconic
8. High-quality
9. Research-led
10. State-of-the-art

If you have any questions about this guidance, please contact Neil Condron (Content manager)