Voice & tone

One of the ways we create a consistent and familiar experience for our users is by speaking with a consistent voice throughout our product and content while being aware of our tone.

What’s the difference between voice and tone?

What’s the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: our voice is a personification of who we are. We always have the same voice. But, our tone changes to match our context and situation, usually through word choice.

For example, when our users are asked to provide their first book suggestion for someone looking for something to read, they might be feeling excited and maybe a bit daunted. We can cheer them on and thank them when they send a suggestion.

But when our users experience something going poorly, such as well-thought suggestion failing to send, they’re probably feeling annoyed and uncertain. We can recognize what went wrong, apologize, and tell them what will happen next.

Voice guidelines

Our brand has a distinct voice and character. This voice and character is the basis of our writing for all of our digital platforms.

When we write in our shared voice, we are always:


  • Create a positive and relaxed tone for our readers
  • Assume positive intent, even when things go wrong


  • Express our real interest and curiousity
  • Be an active listener for our users


  • Communicate clearly and honestly
  • Be plain-spoken
  • Let our love for reading and stories shine through

Using tone

Our tone is more than just the words we choose: it’s the way that we choose to share our personality through our voice.

We can express any given message in wildly different ways. To find the right tone for any given message, consider the four dimensions of tone:

  1. Funny vs. serious.
  2. Formal vs. casual.
  3. Respectful vs. irreverent.
  4. Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact.

Vary these dimensions to meet the user’s emotional and situational context at a given moment in time. Note that our brand voice has a “range” along these dimensions, and we should aim to stay within that range to keep our voice and character consistent.

Further Reading

Adapting to emotional context

Positive situations


  • Be encouraging and positive
  • Express interest


  • Don’t take credit for their success
  • Don’t assume it was easy

Neutral situations


  • Express confidence
  • Connect value to action


  • Don’t create uncertainty
  • Don’t tell people “what to do”

Negative situations


  • Be honest and direct about problems and provide next steps
  • Use conversational but straightforward language


  • Don’t minimize the problem
  • Don’t use negative or technical words
  • Don’t assign emotion

Created by Quinn Keast. View on GitHub.