Voice and Tone Guidelines

The University’s voice is driven by its personality, an element of its overall brand identity.

  • adventurous and engaging — eager to pose and answer questions
  • open and affirming — welcoming people and perspectives from all walks of life
  • smart and purposeful — charting a way toward our goals and aspirations
  • transformational and authentic — driven by a genuine commitment to serve the public good

The University’s voice

  • Uses strong, vivid, purposeful language, including active verbs. Look for verbs tied to physical action, for example: lift, build, spearhead, capture, drive, hone. Look for verbs and adjectives that include some emotional connotation or evoke a strong mental image. For example, instead of “prevented detrimental legislation,” the University might say “fended off a new law that would decimate privacy rights.” Instead of “the class read Russian fiction,” try “The class delved into 200 years of Russian romantics.”
  • Is clear and straightforward, without jargon or wordiness. The most concise method of stating something is often the most powerful. Instead of “we are accomplishing improvement outcomes,” use “we are improving.” Instead of “Fees and payments shall not be accepted from payers or debtors prior to 10,” use “We won’t accept payments before 10.”
  • Prefers active voice to passive. “We provide students,” instead of “students are provided with.”
  • Avoids cliché and vagueness, instead finding fresh language and metaphors. For example, the phrase “Our cutting-edge program is pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box,” is built on phrases that have been overused to the point where they are flat and meaningless. There are two ways to revive a cliché or an overused adjective:
    • Bring in specific factual detail that demonstrates your point. “Our program, the first in the world to use X technology, urges students to find new applications for everyday tools.”
    • Look for creative new language to articulate the idea. “Our program investigates hardware that’s years ahead of the market and encourages students to see their world through the lens of new technology. “
  • Uses first- and second-person language (“we” and “you”) and contractions when appropriate.
  • Engages the audience in conversation, questioning and cooperation. Feel comfortable asking your audience questions. And always welcome questions and feedback from them.
  • Is helpful, thoughtful and optimistic. For example, “We’re happy to help attendees with any special accommodations.”


The examples below illustrate how the University’s voice might appear across several different types of content with different audiences and varying tones.

  • Feature/news story
    • One such effort, spearheaded by the Fisheries and Wildlife student, fended off a proposed logging operation that threatened a national forest and the headwaters of Pendalls Creek.
    • Note the clarity and economy of language and active verbs.
  • Marketing/promotional copy
    • Students at Lake Superior State University are encouraged to ask tough questions, challenge the status quo and search out new ways of learning and discovery. We want students to chart their own path through academic and cultural experiences that sharpen the mind and build solid, resilient personal values.
    • Note the carefully chosen, vivid adjectives and verbs.
  • Social media
    • Amazing video. Our engineering and computer science students made eye-tracking glasses that let paralyzed patients operate computers, using just their eyes to move a cursor. Best part is, they’re more affordable than any of the eye trackers out there today.
    • Despite the informality and short sentences, note the optimistic tone and friendly language.
  • Instructions
    • Spring graduates: In December—six months after you graduate—we’ll send you a follow-up survey so you can update us on your employment progress.
    • We’ll ask you to return your cap and gown immediately following Commencement, so please plan to take any photographs in your academic regalia before the ceremony.
    • Note the straightforward sentence structure, use of contractions, and use of second person.
  • Official letter
    • Congratulations once again on [student first name]’s admission to Lake Superior State University. We share your excitement and optimism about the next four years—years that will launch your student on a lifelong journey of inquiry and learning.
    • Though the letter’s language is somewhat more formal, it maintains the enthusiastic, friendly voice and the personal engagement with the audience.