Voice and tone

Voice and tone are the backbones of our content. Mindful use of them can be the difference between creating an experience that energizes versus one that isolates our audiences.

Voice and tone

What’s the difference?

From tweets to white papers, we produce lots of content in different forms and for different audiences, but our voice always stays the same. It’s the thread that connects our content across channels, and a core part of our brand and the relationship our audiences have with us. We can emphasize different parts of our voice as we talk to different audiences, but it’s largely consistent. Whether we’re speaking to a new developer or CIO, our audience should be able to recognize GitHub and the characteristics we embody—every time.

Tone, on the other hand, can change with each piece of content within the same audience, depending on the context. Think of our voice as our core personality, while our tone is our mood. For example: An FAQ answer will have a more authoritative tone, while a product launch tweet will have a more celebratory tone.

Voice principles

GitHub is where people learn to code, build projects at work, and connect with developers around the world. We work hard to build a supportive, welcoming place for our entire community—which comes to life through the content we write.

Our voice is human and empathetic, because chances are, we’ve been there too. We know building software is often a marathon—with some sprints along the way—so our audience should always feel understood and supported, no matter how experienced they are.

We connect through common language and avoid using localized idioms or expressions that may make anyone feel left out. Our voice is clear and accessible, and our audience should never have to second-guess what we mean. We avoid sarcasm and negativity but aren’t afraid to be a little playful when the time is right.

We can lean more on one of these principles than another depending on the context, but these are all in the back of our minds when we write.

At GitHub, our voice is:

  • Clear but not cold
  • Conversational but not jargon-y
  • Inclusive but not disingenuous
  • Helpful but not overly-prescriptive

Tone principles

Our tone is almost always informal and positive, but we make adjustments. When evaluating an appropriate tone, consider:

  • Which channel are we using? Twitter allows us to be more playful while an email may warrant a little more formality.

  • Which audience we are talking to? We’d make content more lighthearted in an email going to college students studying development while we’d have a more to-the-point tone for an email going to veteran software CEOs.

  • What kind of emotional state is the audience in? An apology email, where the audience felt inconvenienced, would have a more subdued tone while a product launch email would have a more celebratory tone.

Style tips

  • Always use active voice
    • Use: “Teams: Explore our innersource resources”
    • Avoid: “Our innersource resources are available for teams to explore”
  • Watch out for slang and culturally-specific references
    • Use: “The Octocat figurine stands five inches high”
    • Avoid: “The Octocat figurine is Dunkin’ Donut-sized.”
  • Make it short and readable (seventh-grade level or below to be exact)
    • Use: “We’ll see what happens after we discuss this software policy further”
    • Avoid: “The immediate consequences of further involvement in this upcoming software policy discussion are to be determined”
    • If you need to check your reading level for something you wrote, there are lots of free checkers on the interwebs.

Developer content

Our developer persona includes students, hobbyists, and solo software entrepreneurs. While members of this audience are extremely intelligent, we don’t introduce unnecessary work for them when consuming our content. We strive to make our content goal transparent for them and use the language they would use. We speak conversationally, and we keep an eye out for jargon and jokes that will result in an eye roll. We avoid calling them “users” wherever possible in favor of “developers”, “our community”, or referring to a more specific subset.

Enterprise content

Our enterprise persona includes a wide range of people and roles, from developers at large organizations to startup CEOs. We want to clearly communicate GitHub’s value for teams at work in real, specific ways—without confusing our meaning with industry jargon or buzzwords. It may still zing, but it also needs to have substance. (And there is a time for zinging—it just may be better suited for a display ad than an account email.)

We also don’t want to make it all about us. Yes, we’re selling a product, but our role is to be a trusted partner. Our job is to help teams find what works best for them, not just what works best for GitHub. Use “you” more than “we,” don’t use fear tactics, and avoid using “customers” and “users” wherever possible.

Because our Enterprise audience is so wide, it’s important to use the right tone. We’re still GitHub, no matter who we’re talking to. While we may take a more casual tone with someone who already knows and loves GitHub.com, we’ll want to be more authoritative and direct when speaking to industry professionals about our Enterprise platform.

That doesn’t mean losing what makes us GitHub. That just means knowing our audience, and communicating in ways that are relevant and engaging to them. Our tone may be a little more formal at times—like for special event invitations and serious conversations—but our voice is always approachable and human.

Examples

Use: “Hi (NAME),”
Avoid: “Dear (NAME),”

Use: “Join us for”
Avoid: “We sincerely invite you to attend”

Use: “Teams who use GitHub Enterprise”
Avoid: “GitHub Enterprise customers”

Use: “Build a flexible, efficient workflow that works best for your team”
Avoid: “Build an agile, lean workflow that helps your enterprise nimbly adapt”

Check out the Grammar and Usage Guide for more examples

Resources