Writing style and tone of voice – What’s yours?

Posted on April 17, 2013 in Copywriting, Training

How would you describe your writing’s style and tone of voice, and do you vary it for different clients/publications?

I used to write features for two UK national newspapers: The Guardian, whose Wednesday Society supplements were written in a ‘flat / semi-academic’ style, and The Daily Telegraph, whose Week-end editor repeatedly asked for  ‘lyrical and lively’ text.

It paid not to mix the two around.

‘Don’t be negative,’ said the Telegraph editor one day, when I dared to criticise a project he had asked me to write up.  Me?  I thought I was just being fair and balanced, in an educated, Guardian-kind-of-way.

As for what the hyped-up, fluffy and flowery prose that characterises the ‘standfirsts’ and ‘intros’ of some ‘county magazines’, I hate it, and would sooner be dead than try.



Part of your writing style is your tone of voice, and I often ask delegates on my training courses what voice they want in their publications, websites, etc.  Professional – informative – reassuring – caring – or what?

It’s no bad thing to have a clear, written-down idea.

Your preference should affect, for example, your writing’s pitch (serious or fun, formal or relaxed, etc.), sentence length, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar (e.g. use of contractions – ‘is not’ or ‘isn’t’), etc.

Consumer magazines have very clear ideas of their readers – what they want, and how their copy should be written.  It’s used to pull in advertising, but also to guide freelance contributors on their writing style.  The nature of readers in Motorcycle World and Crochet Today, for example, are quite different.

Typically, editors will say things like:  Avoid jargon – Keep it simple – Be direct.  But some guidelines can a bit more descriptive, and here are a few examples from my files:

  • ‘I’d rather you wrote like Clarkson than Proust’
  • ‘Paragraphs should start by telling me a fact’
  • ‘Give the readers shortcuts’

SO, think about your writing style and tone of voice.  It is a good idea to include them in your organisation’s styleguide, for 3 reasons:

  • Ensures a consistent tone for your publication/organisation’s printed material
  • Keeps fellow writers on track
  • Provides a steer for new/temporary staff.



Not just a Copywriter - Also a Writing Trainer.
+ +