Writing with care

“Tone of voice” has begun to be a popular phrase in marketing circles, closely linked with brand and business storytelling. But before you go on to look at developing a specific tone of voice for a brand, you need to make sure that writing basics are taken care of.

The following recommendations apply to all communications, not to a specific brand, message and audience:

Use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation

This should really go without saying: making sure the details are right gives a professional impression and shows that you care about your business and how it is seen by the public – it’s like combing your hair before meeting a client or making sure your socks match and your shirt is ironed.

This applies across all areas of messaging, whether printed or digital – emails, blog posts, social media, press releases, marketing literature… But perhaps it’s most important for communications that can be considered semi-permanent, such as print collateral and corporate website texts; a social media post may disappear down the timeline fairly quickly, but your printed portfolio and your website home page is going to be around for a while.

Research has shown that websites with errors have a higher bounce rate, which in turn leads to a poorer ranking on Google as the site is seen as untrustworthy; badly written press releases are less likely to be picked up by the press, too, and poorly spelled flyers are likely to be binned quickly. So, wherever your business uses written words, it pays to take care and make sure the basic grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct.

Make it accessible

For the last 40 years, the Plain English Campaign has been “campaigning against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information” and long before the Campaign was set up, Mark Twain said, “Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” If we want people to understand our business message – especially when the message is complex or when it deals with unfamiliar concepts – it’s important to write clearly, choosing simple words and sentence structure, and using punctuation to aid comprehension.

Be engaging

Whether we are writing for staff, clients, other stakeholders or the general public, we want to engage with our audience, to write something that’s relatable and relevant and that will involve the reader. The easiest way to do this is to be clear who your audience is for each communication and focus on that intended reader, looking at matters from their point of view. It can also help to use a direct, second-person address – the inclusive “you” in phrases such as “we help you…” rather than “we help our clients…” as this comes across as more targeted and focused on the reader.

Use active verbs

It’s important to think about whether verbs are in the active or passive voice; essentially, in the active voice, the subject of the verb – the person who is to carry out the action – is clearly identified, making the effect of the text on the reader sharper and more specific, whereas the passive voice leaves the agent implicit, which can be slightly vague.

Passives can’t always be avoided, but taking a phrase such as “clients will be shown how to use our products” and turning it around to say “we’ll show you how to use our products”, will make the writing seem much friendlier and more direct, without changing the meaning at all.

Show don’t tell

Following on from writing to involve our readers, is the age-old creative writers’ rule of “show don’t tell” – don’t tell us your heroine is happy; show us how she smiles and sings to herself as she goes about her day. For business communications this really boils down to focusing on benefits not features. Don’t tell us how many buttons and functions the gadget has: show us how these functions will make our lives easier.

Keep things upbeat

Clearly it depends on the service or product but, except for a few celebrities famed for their grumpy-old-man style personalities, most brands don’t aspire to negativity. In an attempt to keep their writing chirpy and upbeat, many writers will deliberately rephrase statements to avoid negative words even when being critical. Using phrases like, “the meal could have been tastier” or “the broadband connection isn’t as fast as I’d like” is less likely to offend than “the meal was bland” or “the broadband is too slow” because we hear the positive words “tasty” and “fast”, which softens the criticism.


The above advice applies to all business writing and every organisation would do well to act on the recommendations. Then, once you’ve settled the basics of good writing, you can look ahead to developing a voice that will demonstrate the unique personality of your brand and differentiate your business from the competition.

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

At Tantamount we know that words are every bit as important as design in getting your message across. We work closely with the publishing industry and offer full editorial services from copy writing to proof-reading to editing. If you need help finding the right words and using them well, why not send us a message or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 and let’s have a chat?