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Content style guide - Voice and tone

How we use a consistent voice and an appropriate tone.

Voice

Our voice is neutral and factual. It's authoritative, but also calm and reassuring.

It's empowering, rather than patronising, and personal, rather than formal.

We:

  • address the user as "you"
  • reassure by saying things like "Sertraline can cause side effects, but many people have no side effects or only minor ones"
  • empower by saying things like "talk to your doctor about..." rather than "your doctor will tell you about..."
  • avoid using "should" as it can sound patronising

Using a consistent voice is similar to using the same visual style and colours throughout. It reminds users this is a trusted NHS service.

Tone

Tone can change depending on the context. We consider the situation and what the emotional state might be for the user.

For example, we may use a direct, serious and reassuring tone when writing about a diagnosis:

Example

If you've had a stroke or heart attack or are at high risk of a heart attack, your doctor may recommend that you take a daily low dose aspirin. This is different to taking aspirin for pain relief. Only take low dose aspirin if your doctor recommends it.

We may use an encouraging and conversational tone when writing about exercise or diet:

Example

It's tempting to skip a session if the weather's bad. But you're less likely to use the weather as an excuse if you've arranged to exercise with a friend or if you're following a training programme.

You can help users understand and answer questions in forms by thinking of them as a conversation.

Get in touch

If you’ve got a question about the NHS digital service manual or want to feedback, you can contact the team:

Help improve the service manual

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Updated: November 2019