Voice, per MailChimp’s content lead and style authority Kate Kiefer Lee, is a brand’s personality that permeates all content. This does not change and is consistent over time. Tone, however, may vary based on situation and audience. As an organization, we should speak with one voice, with a tone that adapts based on the context.
Striving for a consistent voice across all web content on suffolk.edu helps reassure our users that they are in the right place, whether they are researching the university, looking to apply, or learning how to request a transcript. It also both reinforces the concept that Suffolk is “one university” and supports various institutional brand messages.
A consistent voice and an appropriate tone build trust and rapport, and ultimately, a relationship with the user. Remember: People are reading our content. They are depending on us for information, enlightenment, entertainment, or guidance. They are approaching our content from an emotional context -- apprehension, curiosity, enthusiasm, even dismay. And our web content can often start a conversation. Voice and tone are critical in shaping the success of those experiences, for both us and our audience.
While tone may be adapted for different platforms, such as a news story versus a tweet versus a program description versus a transactional page, and may vary slightly depending on audience and source, all Suffolk web content should draw from a common voice that is true to the institution’s personality.
Listed below are some guidelines for achieving these goals:
The Foundation of the Suffolk Voice
- Strive for clarity
- Our communications should be clear, succinct, direct, genuine, and trustworthy.
- The reader should feel confident, engaged, and informed.
- Use the active voice whenever possible. In addition, use plain, straightforward language to avoid muddling the meaning of your words.
- Avoid time-sensitive language (e.g. “Professor Smith came to Suffolk last year") that may quickly become dated or confusing. Always use specific time references (e.g. “Professor Smith came to Suffolk in January 2013”).
- Be human
- Through our content, we are trying forge connections to our audiences and help engender trust and a positive relationship. Thus, generally speaking, our content should be conversational, personable, and friendly. We are writing for people, so write in a person’s voice.
- To help achieve this, use more casual words when appropriate (e.g. “plenty” instead of “numerous,” “Give us a ring” instead of “Please call to speak with a representative”), use simple words (e.g. “begin” not “commence”) and use the words that make the most sense to your target audience(s).
- Find opportunities to address the reader and to be inclusive (“you,” “we,” “us”). Don’t talk at or talk to; communicate with.
- We don’t speak in a stiff, institutional voice. We are open and accessible, and as such, we have no need for unnecessary jargon, or haughtiness. Such an approach only places distance between ourselves and our audience.
- If you are explaining a process or procedure, this is particularly critical. People are relying on these explanations to complete important tasks, so don’t let stiff or bloated language get in the way.
- Similarly, avoid flowery prose or overly clever wit - while fun to write, it may hinder your content’s success by confusing the user or getting in the way of your meaning.
- Lead with the most important information - get to the point, then get out of the user’s way.
- Consider your audience
- Be sure you have identified your target audience and are writing in a way that makes the most sense to them, not to yourself.
- Remember: We are not writing for ourselves; we are writing for our audience.
- It is also important to avoid jargon because of our students who may be from other countries or for whom English is a second language.
- Don’t use directional language (e.g. “Click the links to the left”) since people access your website from a range of devices (e.g. smartphones) or with a range of ability (e.g. blind users), and such language may mean nothing in their context.
- Our audience is a rich and varied population, which is part of what makes Suffolk thrive. Our statements should reflect our commitment to diversity in all meanings of the word.
Writing to the Suffolk Brand
- Be proud
- Suffolk is confident in itself, its students, its academic offerings, and its trajectory for the future. Don’t write like an underdog or with an inferiority complex.
NO: What we lack in prestige or traditional campus atmosphere, we make up for in persistence and opportunity.
YES: We offer a unique campus experience, woven directly into the fabric of the city.
NO: We know you have a lot of choices when it comes to picking a college, and we’re glad that you chose Suffolk.
YES: Suffolk graduates are prepared to pursue any career opportunity that comes their way -- or, if one doesn’t present itself, to make their own.
- Active voice helps reinforce this confidence. Avoid comparisons to other programs; instead, focus on explaining the great values of our own.
NO: Thousands of students have been challenged and enlightened by Suffolk professors over the years.
YES: Suffolk professors challenge and enlighten students on a daily basis.
- Be bold
- Part of being confident is being bold. We should not be afraid to assert our knowledge, perspective and value.
NO: Our residence halls are located adjacent to the Boston Common.
YES: Not many college students can claim the legendary Boston Common as their college quad -- but you can.
NO: Sawyer Business School faculty have expertise in a range of fields.
YES: Sawyer Business School's faculty includes three former Fortune 500 CEOs.
- Let the facts speak for themselves
- Don’t use unnecessary adjectives to describe the university or its programs. Use the facts to tell the story. This goes in line with being bold and proud of who we are.
NO: At Sawyer Business School, you will find an exceptionally talented faculty.
YES: At Sawyer Business School, 95 percent of our faculty have PhDs, and three-quarters of them have held executive positions at companies, ranging from a wind power startup to a Fortune 500 manufacturer.
YES: At Sawyer Business School, our faculty expertise includes corporate environmental stewardship, the applications of “big data,” and the role of microfinance in developing nations
NO: President McCarthy is much beloved by the students.
YES: Students packed the lobby of 73 Tremont to show their support for President McCarthy on his inauguration day. “He’s changing Suffolk for the better,” said John Smith, ‘13.
- Avoid making unsubstantiated claims, even if just out of enthusiasm.
NO: Our residence halls are the best around.
YES: According to John Smith ‘14, “When I visited my friends at other schools around Boston, their residence halls never impressed me. I always looked forward to coming back to my room with a view of the Common.”
YES: Our residence halls are just steps from the amenities of the city, such as restaurants and nightlife, while still offering many of the comforts of home, including kitchens and cable TV.
NO: Our study abroad program is second-to-none.
YES: In 2011, our study abroad program was one of 30 hailed as a top value by the Princeton Review.
YES: Nearly half of Suffolk undergraduates study abroad, choosing from approximately two dozen different programs.
- Err on the side of detail -- provide specifics about student profiles, program outcomes, descriptions of particularly unique or interesting facilities.
- We want to give people a full and accurate impression of Suffolk through our content, and to do that, detail is our best friend. We want people to say “I can see myself there.”
- To this end, we should also find opportunities, whenever appropriate, to include quotes, testimonials and stories from students, alumni, staff, or other relevant constituencies. These will help validate the substance of our content, help our audience more easily believe and understand our content, and make the content more relevant through stories.
Writing for the Suffolk Voice
- Suffolk has several brand attributes which it strives to assert in its communications:
NO: Suffolk University is located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.
YES: Suffolk University is located in the heart of downtown Boston, steps from the centers of government, innovation, finance, and culture.
NO: Complement your art education with access to local galleries and museums.
YES: Complement your art education with access to the world-famous Museum of Fine Arts, the eclectic Institute of Contemporary Art, and the historic Isabella Stewart Gardner museum.
NO: Students can choose from more than 80 clubs on campus.
YES: Whether you like singing or science fiction, cooking or cultural experiences, politics or paintball, we’ve got a club for you -- more than 80 of them, in fact.
NO: Living in a residence hall allows you to meet people from all walks of life.
YES: If you live in a Suffolk residence hall, your roommate may hail from Cambridge, California, or China. Your 3 a.m. hallway discussion about religion will likely include members of several major faiths. And yes, even Red Sox and Yankees fans coexist in peace.
NO: At Suffolk, you will meet people just like you.
YES: At Suffolk, you will meet people who will challenge your assumptions and rock your world.
- Professional (Practical)
NO: Suffolk blends intensive classroom learning with real-world professional experience.
YES: At Suffolk, professors and students alike bring their practical experience to the classroom and their book knowledge to the field. We offer real learning for the real world.
NO: Many Suffolk students balance a full course load with internships and extracurricular activities.
YES: Suffolk students don’t think twice about complementing a full course-load with an internship at a cutting-edge advertising firm and a role in an upcoming play. That’s just how they’re wired.
NO: You can complement your finance major with opportunities both on- and off-campus to apply your knowledge.
YES: Don’t just study financial theory -- put your knowledge to the test in our simulated trading room, or get an internship at one of the financial powerhouses that call Boston home.
NO: At Suffolk, community service is a value that imbues every aspect of university life.
YES: At Suffolk, community service isn’t just a thing we talk about; it’s a thing we do. Our service-learning opportunities enhance your education by letting you make a direct impact in the lives of our neighbors.
- Access to excellence
NO: Our faculty work closely with students.
YES: With a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio for undergraduates, our professors aren’t just teachers; they are mentors and collaborators, too.
NO: We encourage students to seek internships to help boost job prospects and complement their classroom experience.
YES: We’ve got the connections to help you get the internship that will put you at the top of the list when you hit the job market.
NO: If you work hard enough, you can overcome any obstacle you may encounter at Suffolk.
YES: Is college tough? Sure. But you’re tougher. And you’ve got a host of resources at your disposal, committed to ensuring you get the most out of your time here.
NO: At Suffolk, we help make your goals a reality.
YES: Whether it’s getting the support to start your own business, seeing your creative vision come to life in our studios, or nurturing that love of science into a full-blown career, Suffolk empowers the dreams you didn’t even know you had.
YES: Undecided on a major? That’s okay. It’s a good thing, even. It means that anything is possible.
- Academic authority
NO: Our communications professors have a combined 200 years experience in the field.
YES: Among our communications faculty, we have a former TV station general manager, a current newspaper editor, a former NBC executive, and the author of a leading text on public relations.
NO: Suffolk Law faculty have expertise in a range of fields.
YES: Suffolk Law’s faculty includes two of the top five intellectual property lawyers in the country, as ranked by the National Lawyers Association.
- Strong and engaged community
NO: Every year on Service Day, students give their time to those less fortunate.
YES: Last year, 200 students turned out on our 16th annual Service Day to give their time to organizations helping underserved populations in Boston.
NO: More than 2,000 Suffolk undergraduates live off-campus.
YES: If you’re one of the more than 2,000 Suffolk undergraduates living off-campus, you can stay connected to campus life through the various commuter student programs offered by OCHO (Off-Campus Housing Office).
NO: The Sawyer Business School offers both an undergraduate major and minor in entrepreneurship.
YES: The Sawyer Business School understands that the next Fortune 500 company may get its start on a napkin. That’s why we offer an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship.
NO: Suffolk’s two newest residence halls, Modern Theatre and 10 West, house students in doubles, suites, and apartment-style living.
YES: Suffolk’s two newest residence halls, Modern Theatre and 10 West, both earned LEED certification (silver and gold, respectively) for their sustainable design, construction and operation.
- Valuable, world-class education
NO: Suffolk offers a quality education at a bargain price.
YES: A Suffolk education provides challenges, opportunity, and support -- a recipe for success.
NO: A Suffolk education is what you make of it.
YES: Our blend of international perspective, national relevance, and local opportunity make Suffolk a special place to be.
- Suffolk has a variety of institutional storylines which our content should reflect, all of which tie back to the common theme of “access and opportunity.”
- Our storylines
- Transformative experiences
- Academic excellence (depth and breadth)
- Encouraging independent paths
- Engaged faculty (rigorous and supportive)
- Professional/practice-ready (equipped with skills and knowledge to succeed in work world)
- Connecting students to the world
- Visible, successful alumni
- Dynamic community (diverse and engaged)
- Community service
- Suffolk’s Boston (campus without walls)
- When telling these stories, consider the full narrative arc:
- Who is the main character?
- What challenges do they face? What problems are they hoping to solve?
- What role does Suffolk play?
- How does Suffolk influence the character’s journey?
- What is the outcome?