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Interpreting different tones of voice
Interpreting different tones of voice
Updated over a week ago

If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language; the language they use every day; the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.” David Ogilvy

If brands are like people, tone of voice is how they show their personality. For customers, this is important. It gives them something to latch onto – a way of distinguishing a brand from others in the same space. From the brand’s perspective, tone of voice is a way to demonstrate to customers that they care. A lot of time and effort goes into crafting a tone of voice and making sure it is consistently applied. When that’s done well, customers appreciate it.

This guide will give you an overview of three key tones of voice you’ll encounter at Jellyfish:

  • Formal

  • Chatty

  • Straight-talking

Formal tone of voice

A formal tone of voice projects authority and seriousness. It achieves this through:

  • High-register vocabulary

  • Long, flowing sentences

  • Varied punctuation

It avoids:

  • Colloquialisms

  • Exclamation marks

  • In-your-face humour

  • Contractions

Formal tones of voice are popular among long-standing brands that have tradition at the heart of their identities. They are also common in industries where trustworthiness is especially important, such as banking and law. Luxury brands will often use a formal tone, too, as it’s often in their interest to create distance between the brand and the reader – this helps them come across as elite and exclusive.

Here it is in action:

Choosing a place to live is not just about finding the perfect property – you also need to feel at home in the community. Location has a significant impact on lifestyle, making it a crucial component of house-hunting. So, what makes a neighbourhood desirable, and how do you know whether a locale offers the right fit?

If we wanted to make this example even more formal, we could drop the use of ‘you’ and replace it with the impersonal pronoun ‘one’. Or we could drop the use of pronouns entirely and speak in objective terms instead, eg There are many factors that can make a neighborhood desirable, but their relative importance very much depends on the individual.

Chatty tone of voice

This tone of voice is relatable, fun and upbeat. By mimicking the rhythms of everyday speech, a chatty tone draws from the in-store experience in order to enhance the customer’s ecommerce journey. It’s popular among high-street brands carving out a niche online, as well as companies in the travel sector that want to inject some joie de vivre into their content.

It makes use of:

  • Colloquialisms

  • Contractions

  • The occasional exclamation mark

  • Personal pronouns – you, us, we

  • Short, punchy sentences

It avoids:

  • High-register vocabulary

  • Complicated sentence structure

  • Undue seriousness

It looks like this:

Our fab range of children’s curtains is filled with fun designs, from sports team logos to your little one’s favourite cartoon characters. Choose curtains with boy band designs, or heroes from their comic books.

Note the abbreviated ‘fab’ and the friendly colloquialism ‘little one’. And the use of the imperative ‘choose’ does an excellent job of closing the gap between the brand and the reader.





As you can see, the chatty tone of voice uses only words that would come up in everyday speech, whereas the formal tone favours more business-like language.

Straight-talking tone of voice

No fuss, no muss. This tone tells you what you want to know and keeps it simple. It’s knowledgeable, authoritative, professional and low-key. It’s a great choice for mass market brands who don’t necessarily want to tailor their content to a particular audience. Because of its focus on clarity, a straight-talking tone is also a natural fit for how-to guides and other informative content.

Here are its defining features:

  • Direct, short sentences

  • Active voice

  • Contractions where they aid clarity (don’t would be fine, but not it’d)

It avoids:

  • Excessive use of adjectives

  • Extravagant, literary turns of phrase

  • Embedded clauses

Here’s an example

The Evolution compound mitre saw comes with a TCT blade that can easily cut through wood, aluminium and steel, even if nails are still embedded in the material. The multipurpose blade cuts cleanly and leaves no burrs on steel, so you can work with it instantly. The laser cutting guide helps you get the highest possible accuracy in your work. This tool is easy to assemble and use, while the supplied clamp keeps your workplace steady and your hands free.

Notice how these sentences always start with the subject, immediately followed by an active verb that clearly signposts where the sentence is going: ‘The laser cutting guide helps . . .’ ‘This tool is . . . ‘; ‘The multipurpose blade cuts . . .‘

Going beyond

Of course, a tone of voice is every bit as unique as the brand it represents. What we’ve covered here is an important first step, but your education on tone of voice will continue as you pick up more and more Jellyfish projects.

That said, we’re still keen to make these resources as useful as we can. Is there a key category of tone of voice that we haven’t covered here? Or maybe you have some personal tone of voice rules of thumb that you think other Jellyfish freelancers could benefit from. All suggestions are welcome – let us know via this form.

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