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UX writing: voice and tone

In UX writing, almost nothing is as important as the way we talk to our users. So voice and tone are always top of mind.

As a Principal Content Designer at Dell, I spend a lot of time explaining the importance of voice and tone to stakeholders, and then a lot more time explaining what the difference is between the two.

The Style Guide I’ve developed for the Services Design Team at Dell includes this excerpt:

What we say to our users is important, but how we say it also matters.

We want our users to feel engaged and supported. We want them to know that we’re on their side. And we want them to feel like they’re part of a real conversation, with a real person.

Voice and tone are an important part of this conversation.

The difference between voice and tone

Our voice is who we are. It doesn’t change. We are always a trusted colleague on the side of our customer. We’re there to help them get from point A to point B, and this holds true no matter what the situation is or what type of content we’re creating.

Our tone is how we speak to the user in a given context. It changes depending on the situation. For example: If a user has just accomplished something, our tone is congratulatory. If they’re stuck and trying to find help, our tone is calming and knowledgeable.

We’re always that helpful, supportive co-worker, but we alter our tone to address the user in the best possible way for each point in their journey.

Tone is something that requires a good understanding of specific context. As you start creating actual content, you need to start with an understanding of where the user came from, what they’re trying to accomplish, and what will happen next. Armed with this information, you can use your own judgment to determine how the user wants us to speak to them.

I’ve also created this voice chart, to help writers get their heads around the Services voice:

These are small but essential pieces of a much larger Style Guide I’ve written, to help writers on my team and beyond understand the basics before they get started with content development. It’s been my pleasure to provide this guidance and I’m proud of the end result.

To find out more about this resource, reach out anytime. I LOVE talking about this stuff!

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Luminex technical writing

Here are some Software Upgrade Instructions and Uninstall Instructions that I wrote during my time as a technical writer at Luminex Corporation, a bio-technology company.

I chose short documents to keep it simple, but if you’d like to read some longer user manuals (or are having trouble sleeping), let me know and I’ll send one right over.

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Luminex style guide

I wrote this guide for technical writers and trainers to create content in a new, single-sourced publishing environment.

Many team members were new to writing content, and this was meant to guide them through that transition.

I left the company before this was implemented, so what I’m presenting here is the final draft that I proposed before my exit. It should give you a pretty good idea of my general approach to content, at least in this context.

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Canary investor slide deck

Canary investor slide deck

This is a draft of an investor slide deck I did for a client who wanted to develop an app that would use machine learning and AI technology to identify symptoms of anxiety and/or depression in teens on social media.

I did all of the research, writing, and editing for this deck and, while this version is just a draft, it’s still a good example of my freelance work.

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SANS student success story

SANS Institute student success story

As part of a new sales collateral piece, the SANS Institute cybersecurity training company wanted to include profiles of some of its most successful students.

This was the first in a series of stories that I created for that larger piece. I interviewed and researched the student and wrote his story, then participated in a collaborative process with Design and Management to produce this final version.

This is the result of heavy collaboration, so maybe not what I would have produced on my own. But it’s a pretty good example of what happens when marketing, sales, and business come together.

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FIRST 2019: LAUNCH promo video

FIRST: LAUNCH 2019 video

The FIRST organization is built around four yearly, international robotics competitions for kids K-12. In 2019, they hired my agency client to bring all four competitions under a common theme: space.

The agency was hired to create an overarching theme name and narrative to build a cohesive brand around the year’s events. And I was hired by the agency to help make all of that happen.

I named FIRST Launch, created the tagline All systems go, named the two competitions Rover Ruckus and Destination: Deep Space, and wrote the narrative that was ultimately used as a base for this ad and other marketing around the events.

I’m pretty proud of how it all came out. (Also, please note that this was done before Neil DeGrasse Tyson became possibly creepy.)

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FIRST 2020, reveal by Mark Hamill

FIRST 2020 Reveal Video – narration by Mark Hamill

Produced by Lucasfilm to announce the theme for the 2020 FIRST competitions, this video features the background narrative I wrote to pull all four games into one cohesive story.

I wrote the narrative thinking it was just background material–-with no idea it would be used as a video script, and DEFINITELY no idea that my words would be read by LUKE FREAKIN’ SKYWALKER.

Still pinching myself over this one.