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The City's Voice & Tone Guidelines

Friendly 

We’re here to help the public. We make things easier and simpler. Anything we say is useful and easy to understand. Be approachable. Be honest and open. Use personal pronouns like ‘we’ or ‘our’. Instead of "residents" or “applicants,” say "you.” But don’t make it too personal - slang or incomplete sentences sounds strange from an institute of authority. 

Confident

We’re an authoritative source for people looking for answers. Be concise and direct. We use strong statements, with a clear point of view. Get to the point quickly and avoid the subjunctive.

How to Write in the city's Voice & Tone

Keep it simple. Use plain language (it’s the law!)

Do:

  • Write at an 8th grade reading level

  • Use active voice throughout your site 

Avoid: 

  • Too many adjectives, excess modifiers, and repeats.

  • Jargon and government legalese (if you have to use an acronym, make sure to spell it out first) 

  • Incomplete sentences, irony, or idioms.

Make it actionable

People visit our website to do something: answer a question or complete a specific task. Most users will spend an average of 30 seconds on a webpage.  Avoid “intro” text (ex. “Welcome to our division homepage.”). Ask yourself: What key questions can I answer for your users? How can I answer them quickly? 

Know your audience 

We serve a wide range of people. They have different needs, preferences, and abilities. When writing, ask: 

  • Who is my audience? (Homeowners, Business owners, Parents)? 

  • Are they first-time visitors, or savvy returning visitors? 

Your content is a (short) conversation

Imagine you’re talking to the user over the phone or at the front counter. What words would you use to answer questions directly?  Remember, overly wordy content makes it even harder for a person living with a disability.