UITS editorial style guide: Voice and tone

The information here is part of the UITS Style Guide.

On this page:


Use a conversational style, as you would when speaking. Content on IU sites and apps often makes a direct appeal to students, faculty, and staff to get involved, or to take action. Conversational language is effective in getting a message across and helping it stick.

  • Write as if you're talking to a friend, and then modify the language for your audience.
  • Avoid being too wordy or overly descriptive.
  • Don't be too informal; there's a fine line between accessible and too casual. Bear in mind that conversational style isn't appropriate for every situation.
  • Your words should sound confident and knowledgeable, but not self-congratulatory or triumphal.
  • Be as clear and simple as possible, and no more technical-sounding than necessary for the audience.
  • Don't make assumptions (for example, "This will make you comfortable with the software").
  • Avoid using words such as "simply" or "just" (for example, "Simply complete and submit the form" or "Just download the software").

Read your work out loud after you're finished as one last proof.

Address readers directly

Address readers as "you" whenever possible, for example:

Wherever you study, you'll earn an Indiana University degree and find a community where you belong.

If you're creating content for multiple audiences, such as both students and faculty, address the primary user as "you", and refer to secondary users by their roles or titles.


  • Students: Typically have shorter attention spans and tend to skim. Use strong visuals, and language that is engaging, motivating, empowering, and expert (but not stiff).
  • Faculty: Are busy and inundated with print pieces. Use strong visuals, and language that is efficient, structured, proactive, and expert (but neither condescending nor self-promoting).
  • Staff: Think of staff as between students and faculty. Be personable, use strong visuals, and convey a clear understanding of how a service can help. Messaging should be collegial and community-building, practical, and informative.
  • External: Audiences outside IU aren't interested in boasting. Avoid patting ourselves on the back.
    • General: Address why this matters and how it affects them.
    • Technical: Lead with what's new and useful, and how it affects their work.

Active and passive voice

Active voice supports being concise and direct, and makes written content more engaging and easy to understand. Use active voice, rather than passive, whenever possible.

In these examples, the person who receives the form and the case number are essential details, but the passive voice obscures them and leads to confusing, impersonal, and longer sentences.

Passive Active
The request form must be submitted to the approving official.
Submit the request form to the approving official.
The case number should be saved in your records.
Save the case number in your records.

Passive voice isn't necessarily incorrect, but is usually vague and can evade responsibility (for example, "mistakes were made").

Do use passive voice to emphasize results, or when it provides the greatest clarity. "Over 500 prizes will be given away" is passive, but leads with the most important detail. Scientific writing often uses passive voice to add authority or to provide objective, fact-based discourse.

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Last modified on 2023-08-09 14:07:56.