The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice in UX Writing

In literature, the tone of voice refers to the author’s feelings towards the subject as expressed through the writing itself in U. X, every scrap of writing on a page from body copy to button labels contributes to the tone of voice that we’re using to speak to our users. Despite the importance of tone, advice about it tends to be vague. Be consistent, be authentic, be unique. So we decided to create a manageable, specific tool that content strategists could use for simple tone profiles we identified for primary tone of voice dimensions. First, is the writer trying to be funny, or is the subject approached in a serious way? Note that we’re just talking about an attempt at humor. Just because you want to be funny doesn’t mean you’ll always land your jokes. Second is the writing formal, informal, casual. Third, does the writer approach the subject in a respectful way or an irreverent way with digital products and irreverent tone is often not intended to be offensive to the reader, but is used to set the brand apart from competitors. Fourth is the writer enthusiastic about the subject, excited about the service or product, or is the writing dry and matter of fact, to see how we could use those four dimensions to create very different effects? Let’s look at a single simple message. An error has occurred. First, let’s try a serious, formal, respectful and matter of fact, error message. We apologize, but we are experiencing a problem. We’re not trying to make users laugh or using any strong emotion. It’s a fairly traditional, straightforward error message. Let’s tweak one of the dimensions by making this a little more casual will change. We are to weird and apologize to sorry. We’ll also add the expression on our end. The message is still serious and matter of fact. So let’s add a little enthusiasm. In this case, enthusiasm means emotion more than excitement, since the subject is a negative one for both the product and the user. So we could say, oops, we’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a problem on our end that changes our message to be more casual and definitely more enthusiastic.

Finally, we could add an attempt at humor and maybe a little playful irreverence. What did you do? You broke it.

Which of these versions of the same message would work best? That depends on your brand personality, but also on your users in the context. If your users are frustrated when they arrive to this error message or if they see it frequently, a humorous tone might be irritating. The best way to know which tones will work with your users is to test.

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