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Why it’s good to get in character

Corporate websites can be dry old places. On the other hand, some are almost too eager to be friendly. There’s nothing wrong with either of these, but there is something that’s worse, and that’s an inconsistency of tone. If only one person ever creates content for the site, this may be less of an issue, but as soon as several people contribute, you need some sort of policy. Is it to be ‘we are the humourless authority on our subject’ or is it ‘doing business with us is like going down the pub’? You need to decide where you want to pitch things. There are good examples of all kinds in almost every market sector.

Once you’ve decided on a style and tone of voice, putting what you want into words, so that others can follow, is hard. One of the best ways is to pull out a set of sample product pages, blog posts, case studies etc. which you think reflects the way you want to come over. Other contributors can then refer to that. As a freelance writer, I’ve always found it very useful to be given an example to follow.

This of course is a first step towards a ‘style guide’, but I’m sure that’s a step too far for most small businesses; it’s arguable if people read these anyway. That said, you can pick out some of the useful sections which appear in some of the best style guides, such as ‘terms to avoid’. I was interested to read recently that the Advertising Standards Authority has been clamping down on unverified claims from universities, and among the misleading statements was one which used the adjective ‘leading’. This has traditionally been a description used by lazy marketing departments who can’t find anything quantifiably good to say about their businesses, and it’ll be interesting to see if the word starts to get the ridicule it’s long deserved.