Writing tone of voice guidelines

Nick Harland
February 2024

Don't know where to start with your tone of voice guidelines? Here are some examples from leading companies, and a guide to writing your own.

What are tone of voice guidelines?

First off, the basics.

Tone of voice guidelines govern how you communicate with your customers. They're a way of making sure all of your communications are streamlined and sound like they're coming from a single entity. Which can obviously be difficult when several different people are all writing blog posts from the same company, for example. They also help your business stand out and appeal more to your target audience.

Tone of voice guidelines can be anything from a one-page document to a 300-page tome. But in general, here are some things that are normally included in them:

  • What you want to sound like. Friendly? Professional? Chilled out entertainers? Briefly explain your tone of voice using some key phrases. Try to be as specific as possible.
  • Why you want to sound like that. There should be a logic behind your tone of voice. Usually, brands would pick a certain tone of voice to set themselves apart from competitors and appeal to their target audience. Don't just choose one randomly because you think it sounds cool.
  • Spelling and grammar rules. For example, do you use the Oxford comma? British English or American English? Is your company name capitalised?
  • Numbers, date and time. Explain how you write numbers out, and the format you'll use for the date or time. You should also think about how to write out things like fractions, currencies and percentages.
  • Format-specific guidelines. For instance, explain how your staff should write web content, social media posts and external emails.

But tone of voice guidelines can obviously vary a lot depending on your brand. Here's what other companies are doing with theirs.

Tone of voice examples


The MailChimp style guide is one of the most commonly-linked style guides on the web. That's because it's a) comprehensive and b) quite good. Use it to get some inspiration about what to include in your own guidelines.


Sometimes we don't use tone of voice guidelines to stand out or sell more products. In the case of a public organisation, their style guide is more based around accessibility and ease-of-use than any commercial motivation. That's why the UK government style guide is such a useful tool. There should be some things you can take away from it that help your content become a little easier to read and access.


Just because you're a big organisation doesn't mean you need a big style guide. The NHS tone of voice guidelines are clear, simple and only a page long. If you don't need to go into loads of detail on your own guidelines, don't do it.


Monzo is always an interesting case study for this kinda stuff because their tone of voice is such a key selling point for them. Basically: they're a bank, but they don't talk like a bank. If you want to use your tone of voice to stand out from your competitors, this is a handy guide to work from.


Another interesting case study is always a charity. They need to use more emotive language than the average business, so it's interesting to study how they try and find that balance. Their tone of voice is here.

How to write your own tone of voice guidelines

Right, now we've gone through some examples, let's take a closer look at how you can go about writing your own tone of voice guidelines. Here are five tips to get you started.

  1. Start with the whats and whys. Before getting into the nitty gritty of spelling and grammar, you should first think about what a tone of voice is and why your brand needs one. Explain what you're hoping to achieve and why a tone of voice will help you do it. Not only will this help to get other employees on board with the idea, it'll also help guide your guidelines.
  2. Think about key phrases associated with your brand. It might be the actual name of your company, or the name of competitors, or simply words and phrases that you use when communicating. Start by explaining how to spell them and when to use them. For example, a university's tone of voice guidelines might state that you should refer to a bachelor's as a programme or degree but never as a course.
  3. Use the do this, not that structure. Another way of getting your guidelines up and running is what we call a do this, not that slide. Here you should include a few examples of how you want your tone of voice to sound - and some examples of how not to do it. Basically, good examples and bad examples. This will help to put your theorising and top level stuff into a little more practical detail.
  4. Spelling, grammar, number, currencies, date, time and all the rest. Do you use an Oxford Comma? How do you quote people? Do you write numbers numerically (32) or spell them out (thirty two)? How do you write the date? All of this stuff matters, and contributes to a uniform tone of voice that sounds like your brand. Include all of these details in your guidelines, because they matter.
  5. Think about the different channels your brand uses to communicate. Companies (should) communicate differently on different platforms, so your tone of voice guidelines need to cover that. Write some separate rules for communicating via email, social media, blogs, web pages and anywhere else your copywriting might appear.
  6. Include a fallback style guide. As much as you want it to, chances are your style guide won't cover every eventuality. That's why you need a fallback style guide for things that aren't covered in yours. The Guardian and the Chicago Manual of Style are two examples of publicly available style guides you can link to.

Hopefully this guide covers all you need to know about writing your own tone of voice guidelines. If you're still struggling, or are just terrified at the thought of putting pen to paper, feel free to get in touch to see how we can help. We're alright at writing the right things and guiding you through good guidelines.

Nick Harland