Brand guidelines

Writing for different channels

Whether you are writing a promotional brochure, a research report, a recruitment advertisement for the radio, a piece of copy for the web, or presenting at an event, our tone of voice must remain the same. It may flex according to your audience, but the tone itself should remain ‘British Council’.

In the same way that our tone of voice may flex according to your audience, it may also flex according to the channel you are communicating through. The emphasis may change whether you are writing for editorial, promotional or information purposes, and may vary from printed to broadcast or web materials.

Whatever channel you are writing for, certain principles apply to all. There are ways to make sure that you engage your audience and get your message across. Here are a few things you can do.

1. Make people listen.
You’re competing for their attention. Make them an offer. Describe a benefit. Entertain or intrigue them. Make sure that your opening sentence, headline or title makes your message or promise clear and makes them want to read on.
Where you’re using pictures, make sure that they tell the story too, and that they add to the communication and are not just decorative.

2. Talk to individuals.
Identify the kind of people you are talking to and address them directly. Show that you understand their aims and aspirations, and make sure that the way you deliver your message is relevant to them.

3. Have a conversation.
You’re trying to build relationships. So at the very least, your communications should be like a dialogue between equals. At best, they can be like a letter or conversation between friends. This is where a developed tone of voice can really help you.

4. Keep them listening.
Once you’ve got the opening and the tone right, it’s time to develop your story and explain your message more. Fill in the details, list the features, enlarge on the benefits. Keep it moving. Keep it interesting. People will want to know what’s next.

5. Be single-minded.
Concentrate on saying one thing and saying it well. Prioritise. Focus on the core of the story – your main message – and sum up the rest. Tell them what you’re offering. Spell out the benefits and conclude.

6. Give them facts.
Support claims and assertions with evidence. Provide facts and figures to support your main message. Give examples. Use quotes or testimonials. Offer more information. Whatever it takes to prove your point.

7. Don’t wander.
Say all you need to say, but say it as briefly and memorably as you can. Don’t bury it in words. Keep it simple, and avoid complicated words (but not at the expense of accurate words) and lots of adjectives. Don’t be boring or make it hard for readers, and don’t lose focus or you’ll lose your audience.

8. Make them believe.
People will be interested in your story if you explain it clearly, if it’s relevant and if it is of benefit to them. But for them to do something about it, they need to believe it. Facts help, but you also need to communicate with conviction, energy and enthusiasm.

9. Reward them.
You should be giving your audience something to take away with them. A memorable message. Good feelings about you and your brand. Interest in, or a wish to take up, your offer, and a desire to know more.

10. Take action.
You should always end with a ‘call-to-action’. Ask people to call, email or visit your website for more information. Help them. Give them information and they’ll buy your offer for themselves. It’s about strong messages based on strong brands.

Writing for the web

Writing for the web usually requires a much more succinct way of writing than is often the case in print. What we write and how we choose to write it are two important aspects of writing for the web. Web pages need to be clean, clear and simple. They need to begin with simple titles and introductions that summarise the page. Web pages are laid out differently so it is important to ensure that we are adopting the right tone of voice and including the most important information from the outset. The Digital Team has developed guidelines on writing for digital channels.

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