Tone of voice
Tone of voice is how our character comes through in our words, both written and spoken.
The right choice of words and language adds volumes to every message, boosting our communications’ effectiveness in subtle ways that tell our tenants, customers, partners and our sector who we are, how we’re different and why we’re right for them.
The tone of those words reflects our values; it also reflects our confidence, integrity, passion and joy in what we do.
It's not about what we say, but rather the way we say it, and the impression it makes on everyone in our audience who reads or hears us.
Like all good writing, our communications are waffle-free, jargon less, and as short as they can be, using straightforward, precise, conversational words to help build trust and keep readers engaged.
Readability data suggest that the average reading age of the UK population is nine years - that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9-year-old. The Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of eight. Bear this is mind when communicating - follow plain English principles and avoid technical or complex language or concepts.
Corporate personality | our brand’s traits and characteristics
- Plain and natural language
Corporate tone of voice | how we convey our values and beliefs through language
Welcoming/inviting - we resonate with tenants, customers and employees.
Inclusive and accessible - our narrative is clear and reflects the diversity of origin, identity, thinking, and lived experience.
Professional - people choose us as a trusted housing and service provider who will deliver value for money and provide safe, regulated services.
Confident - we are leaders in the sector and experts in providing social housing and related services.
Top tips for getting the tone right:
- Be friendly, be approachable, be authentic, be human - not a robot
- Think about how your communication will be received - put yourself in their position as you write, tweet or speak: what matters to them? What do they want to know about our services? Use these insights to guide your writing and you’ll be giving readers what they need and representing Progress Housing Group in the right way
- Be clear about what you’re asking the reader to do - give instructions
- Read back what you’ve written out loud - does it pass the ‘plain English’ test? (see below)
- Treat the tenant/customer as an adult. Be friendly, assertive and confident, professional and positive
- Use your first name, if you’re comfortable doing so
- Use contractions (for example 'I’m writing' not 'I am writing'). It makes your writing sound more conversational and natural
- Be appropriate in the way you address them and the language you use. Mirror their level of formality if that’s appropriate
- Consider the recipient’s feelings. If you have to say 'no', say it nicely and explain why. You don’t need to go into too much detail
- If the tenant/customer must do something such as complete a form, then make that clear. Don’t use phrases like, 'If at all possible, please complete the attached form', it’s much better to be direct and say: 'Please complete the attached form.'
- If you need to say sorry, say it up front
- It’s better to say 'We’re sorry' instead of 'Please accept our apologies'. It’s not necessarily an admission of guilt, it can just be an expression of sympathy, 'I’m sorry that you’re so frustrated about this issue.'
- Always read back out loud what you’ve written before you send it. Does it make sense? Does it sound pompous?
What not to do:
- Be defensive
- Blame the tenant/customer
- Over-explain or make excuses
- Be patronising
If you’re dealing with a complaint try not to see it as a personal attack or an attack on your service, even if the tenant/customer has written it that way! As an organisation, we welcome complaints as an opportunity to improve things.
Don’t say, 'We are sorry, but ....' and don’t belittle the tenant/customer or imply that their issue is trivial. We don’t know what else is going on in their life.
Passive or active?
Write in the first person - use 'I' and 'we' not 'Progress Housing Group'. Call the reader 'you', as you would if you were sat across a table from them or speaking to them on the phone.
Use the active voice. This automatically makes your communication better and more professional, instead of stuffy and bureaucratic.
We tend to use the active voice naturally when speaking without even thinking about it. It’s when the subject of a sentence does an action to an object. We sometimes change to the passive voice when writing. Here are some examples showing the difference between the two and how the passive voice can be turned into the active voice:
This matter will be considered by us soon (passive)
We will consider this matter soon (active)
The riot was stopped by the police (passive)
The police stopped the riot (active)
Instructions will be given to you by the operative (passive)
The operative will give you instructions (active)
The boiler was fixed by the operative (passive)
The operative fixed the boiler (active)
Repairs are reported by thousands of tenants every year (passive)
Thousands of tenants report a repair every year (active)
You can see how the active voice is more straightforward and easier to understand.
Sometimes a passive voice is better to use. For example, to make something less hostile - 'the rent has not been paid' (passive) is softer than 'you have not paid your rent' (active). It may also be kinder to say 'I’m sorry to hear of your partner’s death' than 'I’m sorry your partner died'. But you should aim to use the active voice most of the time.
Positive or negative?
It’s better to use positive language if you can. For example, it’s much better to say:
'this has been a difficult decision' rather than 'this hasn’t been an easy decision'. It sounds more empathetic in tone too.
It’s also better to use language that encourages a positive response rather than a negative one. For example, it’s easier for people to remember something than not to forget it: 'remember to let us know when you are in' (positive behaviour) is better than 'don’t forget to let us know when you are in'.