The tone of voice in literary works relates to how the author feels about the subject as it is written. Writing prose vs writing on the web is definitely different (or at least it should be since web users read very little).
Users don’t read, we’re told, so we avoid writing anything until we really have to. However, we must remember that users pay attention while they read.
Every bit of writing on a page—from the body content to the button labels and other UX copywriting—affects how we talk to our users. Because of this, developing your tone of voice is an essential step in the UX design process.
The words we use are only one aspect of the tone. It’s how we express our personalities to others. The tone of voice is how we communicate to our audience how we feel about what we are saying, and it also affects how they feel. If you use the correct tone, you might be able to turn a casual visitor into a repeat customer.
Despite the significance of tone, guidance on it is frequently ambiguous: “Be consistent. Be genuine. Be distinct.
What larger characteristics make up a tone? Here, we outline a framework of four aspects that may be used to evaluate or develop the tone of voice for a website.
A basic Google search for “tone-of-voice terms” yields hundreds of phrases that characterize literary tones. (The most are from websites for undergraduate English classes.) Most of those adjectives have extremely particular meanings and connotations (for example, “vexed” or “cynical”), and therefore couldn’t be used to describe the tones for a lot (if any) websites.
You’ll also notice that many of these lists are lengthy, with hundreds of words in some cases.
Before you do anything else, you must be able to clearly answer two questions: who is your product, and who is your target audience. Let’s dissect them. Consider your product’s personality: is it a fun challenge game, a reputable banking website, or a sophisticated online clothes store?
Examine your objectives, abilities, and rivals – all of this will help you position yourself and your individual voice. Next, consider your intended audience.
Their actions, hobbies, culture, lingo, and anything else can help you learn more about your users. After doing your research, you should have a clear vision for your product.
To make things easier, you may divide your tone of voice into four categories: amusing vs serious, formal vs informal, respectful vs irreverent, and enthusiastic vs matter-of-fact. Consider each dimension to be a scale, with neutral in the center. Take a closer look:
Funny vs Serious – The distinction between “Error 404” and “Error 404. The requested URL could not be located on this server.” as well as “Boo!” “The contents escaped!” Do you want to sound cheerful, or does your product require a serious tone? Remember that you may always try to incorporate some levity into your microcopy.
Formal vs. casual – consider an official document vs. emailing a buddy. A casual tone is achieved by using contractions, reducing language and vocabulary, and including slang. Contrast “I apologize for the inconvenience.” with “I’m sorry about that!”
Respectful vs. Irreverent – this might be a difficult distinction to make. Old Spice’s tone of voice is a great example of irreverence done correctly. The use of non-dictionary terminology such as “pitfluencer,” “excellent smellingness,” and “beardness” emphasizes their irreverent attitude. (Fortunately, they continue to deliver high-quality items; the irreverence is restricted to rhetoric around the subject matter, not the product itself.) Compare the homepages of Old Spice and Dove, which take a far more respectful approach to beauty and grooming.
Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact – this refers to the amount of energy and excitement you wish to convey to your audience. Unfortunately, this dimension is frequently overdone, because why wouldn’t we want to appear passionate while addressing our users? Consider the following Facebook or Instagram notifications: “X left a remark on your post.” “Y began following you.” These are brief, factual statements that merely deliver the necessary information. As the old adage goes; Less is more.
Tones might fall at either end of each dimension or anywhere in the middle. The tone of voice of any website might be represented as a point in the 4-dimensional space given by these dimensions.
The tone of voice has quantifiable properties and an influence on users.
Individual opinions of tone will always differ slightly. What one person finds “witty” may be considered “corny” by another. However, our data indicate that:
The tone has quantitative features (such as warmth and formality);
These factors have demonstrable effects on users’ perceptions of brand personality (such as the brand’s friendliness and trustworthiness); and
These impressions have a substantial impact on users’ desire to suggest a brand.
Desirability measurements are crucial to brand success and can be tough to improve — but these findings suggest that the tone of your content can affect desirability.
Tips for evaluation
The context of your consumers is extremely essential, and it is not always easy to foresee. You could believe that a grandiose and professional tone for a hospital fosters confidence. Many participants, however, felt that light, conversational tone demonstrated empathy, which was important to them.
Remember, you are not your user. Your assumptions about how your users would react to your tone may be incorrect. Test with representative users as much as possible to assist you to assess your expectations.
Tone interpretation is highly personal and unique. There will always be a few people who dislike or love a tone unexpectedly, but you must read the comments to comprehend the broader ideas shared by many participants.
We urge that you don’t depend entirely on quantitative indicators like the ones we’ve mentioned here because there is much complexity in tone-of-voice readings (and users’ related preferences).
Quantitative data is important for determining if your desired tone is perceived by people and comparing such statistics against other proposed pieces of writing. Qualitative research is far superior for learning why people prefer various modes of communication and gaining deeper insights into how they comprehend your information.
For these insights, do qualitative user research in which customers say something about your content rather than merely rate it.
You must be patient if your users regularly remark on the visual design, interaction design, or features of your UI when you want them to comment on tone. You should not just direct your users to discuss the tone of voice since you risk biassing them.
To promote user feedback on the tone of voice:
Create wireframes or basic text snippets of your material to eliminate distractions (as we did for this experiment).
Pose provocative yet ambiguous questions to your visitors, such as “If this website were a person, who would it be?” “Why?” to begin readers thinking about the writer’s individuality.
Try a modified product-reaction test in which you ask your consumers to choose from a list of tone words.
Before embarking on product design and development, businesses must consider who they are, who their consumers are, and what messages they want to convey.
Planning ahead of time is vital if you want to elicit specific emotions, retain consumers within your goods for longer periods of time, and service them efficiently. To begin, you must comprehend the issues that users confront and the answers that they require.
When you understand your audience’s culture, behaviors, interests, and language, you can design a tone of voice that inspires trust, confidence, and loyalty.
Establish guidelines and mechanics (for example, outlining terminology; how you’ll use contractions, pronouns, and industry jargon; and creating standardized copy for different components) to help writers understand your tone and use it consistently once you’ve decided how you want to sound and tailored it to different scenarios throughout your user journey.
When you meet your consumers where they are and provide them with the appropriate empathy, knowledge, and entertainment, they are more likely to be pleased, return users, and suggest your goods to others.
Of course, there are an unlimited number of words to define your product’s unique voice, but these eight sides can help you find your place in that vast sea of adjectives. Remember to think about how you want your audience to feel when they use your product and don’t be hesitant to change your tone as needed.